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Chatterbox: A beautiful day for a neighbor


I just lost two column ideas in two days because I didn’t write them down faster than my funnel of a memory deleted them. Then, a few moments ago, a new opportunity popped up.

Completely by accident, while scanning my phone for music to do chores by, I happened upon Fred Rogers, a man we just spoke about recently. He was making his acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmy Awards (Anyone looking for a great cry in under two minutes can find this on YouTube).

Much to my disappointment, I missed the documentary film about him, but his speech was exactly what one would expect from Fred and really moved the hearts of all in earshot. He downplayed celebrity in his career and in his Emmy speech. To him, helping others is just something we all do in numerous ways, and he said, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being who we are.”

In that, though, he was only partially right; the lucky ones do. Many people struggle through life without a loving support group. Many have no healthy familial environment or even ever know any consistency long enough to create that safe zone but, during childhood especially, we all need that. We all need at least one person whom we know we can rely on – our cheerleader and trusted counselor. We all need those who help us realize we’re important as individuals by showing us that we’re important to them.

Some people never know they are valuable just as humans. Some have a lonely time learning that. Some are blessed to have friends who are like family. Others learn it just by being born into the circle it takes. Whatever category we fall into, if we have anyone on our team, anyone who has our back, we are blessed. Those who pass that on are cornerstones in the development of humanity, one person at a time.

Fred Rogers was so generous of spirit that he modified his standing ovation, its spontaneous resurrection of applause, and the glowing introductory speech by creating an opportunity for the audience members to reflect on the sources of their own personal inspiration.

“Would you just take … 10 seconds,” he asked the gala crowd, “to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life?”

Pushing back his cuff he added, “Ten seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time.” He ticked off the seconds as audience members smiled slightly, closed their eyes, teared up, pressed their lips, or bowed their heads.

When the time was up he said, “Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.”

He shared his accomplishment by thanking those who helped him, simply listing, “family, friends, co-workers ...” Most often, those who are there for us know their words and actions have helped us, but we all know there are also those nameless strangers in our life who may drop a tidbit our way, leaving a lifelong shine – someone who said the right thing at the right time to us and never even knew they helped us somehow. Many of us have done that for someone else, too.

The gentle presence of supportive and loving family, friends, co-workers, and even those strangers of a chance meeting, whom we may never meet again, creates in us that ability to give those very same important things to others. If every person on the planet could have that, learn that and give that, we’d all be living, every day, in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Thanksgiving is here. All our winter holidays and the new year are approaching. This time of year makes most of us reflective … makes us soul-search. We may not be able to articulate why, but anything that induces a flavor of sharing and caring is good stuff. For the lucky, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor …,” a beautiful time to think about helping those “who have loved us into being,” as well as that convenient stranger.

As this most reflective time approaches, so much more meaningfully each year, we can all take 10 seconds to think about those special people and meander through that special neighborhood, that place that begins at our own personal starting line, etched with sidewalk chalk in our childhood scribble…

… a stroll.