A few weeks ago my husband and I went to an afternoon matinee of the documentary about Mister Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” No sooner did the film begin, than I found myself in tears! Throughout the poignant retelling of Fred Rogers life and career, I found myself at points actually sobbing. Yes, Mister Rogers was a part of our and our children’s growing up, but the film touched something deep within me.
Why was my emotional response to this documentary so deep? Two words: Courage and Kindness. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister by vocation and television personality by trade, followed his life calling – to provide children’s television programming that promoted kindness and goodness as children faced the difficulties and challenges of simply growing up. It took courage for Fred Rogers to sit before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications and share his vision and hope to continue government funding for his show as well as others on the newly formed non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It took courage in the midst of our country’s much-televised racial violence and segregation for Fred Rogers to take off his shoes and socks and and invite Officer Clemmons to share a moment in the little wading pool cooling their feet off together. It took courage for Fred Rogers to help explain some of the most difficult moments that touched his viewers’ lives – from the assassination of public figures to what it means when a mother and father decide to divorce.
But it wasn’t courage alone that propelled Mister Rogers. That courage came from a deep well of kindness that Mister Rogers wanted to share with the children of this country. This kindness is something innate – present in all of us – just waiting to be nurtured.
Tara Cousineau, in her book, The Kindness Cure: How the Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart and Your World, describes kindness in this way: “Feeling connected, supportive, and supported means stepping beyond momentary comfort and taking risks to reach out. To be kind means you must cross relational space between yourself and others, which is filled with uncertainty. You will ask: Do I approach or avoid? Do I close my heart or expose it?” (p. 34)
Stepping outside our comfort zone to be kind takes courage. I see this every week when I spend an hour at a memory care facility near my home to lead residents in meditation and movement. Each week I see tremendous courage as these beautiful women and men who have made spectacular contributions to their families and communities participate in my class. “G” shows great courage as she moves her arms with great determination. “F” smiles as he opens his arms wide and “gives himself a hug.” “B” takes each direction with utmost seriousness.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage for each of these residents to leave his or her home to move to this memory care facility – sometimes willingly, but often with great resistance and grief. It takes courage to search one’s memory for a name or a place. It takes courages for family members to see their loved struggle with even the simplest of daily life tasks. It takes courage for staff members to assist residents over and over again without becoming callous because of the monotony of daily care.
But it isn’t courage alone. Kindness shines through that courage. The phrases of Mister Rogers come to mind, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” “I like you just the way your are.” This is the kindness that is shared each day by the residents, their family members and the staff of this memory care facility as they live and work together to make this place “a neighborhood.” This is the kindness that helps them move into an uncertain future trusting that courage and goodness will prevail. But, isn’t that what we all should be doing?
We make a community, a neighborhood wherever life takes us. We are not solitary travelers on this road. When we open our hearts with a kind word or a gentle smile we welcome others into our neighborhood “just the way they are” – and most importantly, “just the way WE are.” Welcome to my neighborhood! Won’t you be my neighbor?