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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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June 18, 2011 by wcobserver

Fred Rogers was one of America’s most beloved educators, authors and television personalities. He taught over a generation of children the difference between right and wrong. He was considerate, thoughtful and kind. He didn’t belittle, patronize or dismiss. He was warm, generous, and for over 30 years, he led by example. Mr. Rogers was a gentle man … but more importantly … he was a gentleman … and ultimately, he was exactly what he set out to be … a good neighbor.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about Mr. Rogers and what it means to be a good neighbor. I guess I’ve always been what you’d call, a “cup of sugar” neighbor … that is to say … the kind that will loan you a screwdriver, an egg … or … well … a cup of sugar.

To be honest, neighbors and friends have always been sort of separate things for me. In my world, a neighbor brings in your mail if you’re away on vacation. But a friend drives you to the airport to go on the vacation. A neighbor jump-starts your car if you left the lights on all night. But a friend loans you the money if you need a new battery.

Just recently though, I moved into a new house, and I’m wondering if I might just have it all wrong. As I was unloading the truck, my new neighbor introduced himself. “I’m Bobby,” he smiled, “can I help you move in any of the heavy stuff?” I smiled back and politely declined. “Thanks but I don’t want to wear out the neighbors on the first day,” I said. We exchanged a few pleasantries and he went on his way.

The next week, Bobby brought my trash bin out to the curb before dawn. Thank goodness because I didn’t even know it was trash day. Before I got home from work, he had already brought the bins back up to the house. When I pulled in the driveway yesterday I was stunned to see that Bobby’s wife, Dena, had very graciously … and selflessly … mowed my lawn. Then last night they helped me cut some curtain rods to the right length, and today, like one of the Brothers Grimm’s magical elves, in The Elves & The Shoemaker, Bobby fixed my fence and then disappeared without a word. When I try to thank them, they wave me off as if to say, awww it’s nothing.

Now granted I’m not a life-long Southerner, so perhaps this is an old time brand of Southern hospitality that I’ve never encountered. But I don’t think so. I think that Bobby and Dena are the kind of people that don’t have separate categories for friends and neighbors, because their actions aren’t based on who other people are to them … but who they are … in the eyes of other people. They just want to be the best people they can be … always … and in any circumstance.

When Mr. Rogers died, in 2003, I cried. In fact, I didn’t just cry. I sobbed. I felt like I had missed the opportunity to say thank you … to tell him that I’d listened … to tell him that I’d make him proud.

But it’s funny, this past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like I might just have that opportunity after all. I’m grateful to live next door to the kind of people who possess the qualities that made Fred Rogers such a beloved person. But I’m also grateful to be reminded that I can be a good neighbor myself. I’m pretty sure that’s all Fred Rogers hoped for any of us.

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