Where have you gone, Mister Rogers?

On the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

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I dread the doorbell ringing.

The doorbell rings, and my imagination goes on one of its many unhelpful jaunts through recent news stories (Military Spouse Attacked in Home Invasion) and into a traumatic future (What will the kids do when they come home from the bus and discover my mauled body?). My make-believing never prompts me to gleeful anticipation, never assumes that the door will open to a relationship, or to an opportunity, or to delight.

It never crosses my mind that I might answer the door to a neighbor’s friendly visit. We rarely know our neighbors. We’re keep-ourselves-to-ourselves types, and apparently so are they. A nod when they walk their dog past our house, a wave if we’re unloading groceries in our driveway at the same time they’re pruning their boxwood hedge. And when we pack up to move again, they may not even notice we’ve gone.

There’s the chance that on the other side of the door is someone for whom I am merely a mission—religious, political, financial. The Witnesses who are convinced I need saving, who will secure for me a place among the chosen. The pavement-pounders who represent the Right Choice and who can’t believe I won’t vote for their candidate (and then who are probably also convinced I need saving). The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Band Geeks who are convinced I need their popcorn and cookies and candy bars wrapping paper magazine subscriptions and awkwardly offer me pages of unreasonably priced products to choose from.

Of course, it is always possible that the ring signals a speedy delivery of the Amazon Prime variety, two-day free shipping of anything I want or anything I need or anything I just can’t live without for more than another 48 hours. But it’s not coming from anyone who cares about me, who knows me and thought of me and thought I might learn something from it and knew for sure I’d be delighted by it. It’s not delivered with a smile, and it’s not received with a song.

It’s hard to believe—even for me—that I learned to live in the world from a man who never flinched when the doorbell rang. Now maybe that was just TV trickery, clever scripts and careful casting, but by all accounts he lived real life the way he lived in his make-believe neighborhood: treating every visitor as a welcomed guest. Making himself comfortable everywhere from his television-set living room to the houses of Congress, and making every speedy deliveryman every world-famous musician every immigrant artist every black police officer every special needs child and even this young television neighbor comfortable too. Greeting every ringing doorbell with enthusiasm and expectation.

What would it take for me to be that kind of neighbor? If I practice at make-believe long enough, will I eventually be surprised by belief itself? Will I hear the bell ring and turn to face the door knowing I will open it to a beautiful day?

One thought on “Where have you gone, Mister Rogers?

  1. So wonderful to “hear” you again! I hate answering the door but in our neighborhood it’s rarely a neighbor. We can all get so isolated. Let me know how this plays out for you!

    Like

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