"Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like, if each of us offered as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person...One kind word has a wonderful way of turning into many"
Like every self-respecting Pittsburgher who grew up in the city between 1970 and 2001, I have a story about the day I met Mr. Rogers. I was probably five or six, and we went to see the show being taped at the WQED Pittsburgh studio that was home to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. We all sat cross-legged on the floor and watched the magic unfold, and after it was over, we got to shake his hand.
A simple introduction to a simple man who, quite simply, changed the world.
I remember where I was when I found out that he died. It was my sophomore year in college. I was in my room studying for a midterm with the TV on in the background, and I heard it on the news. And for a moment, I was terribly sad. And I remember thinking that this day, the day everyone's favorite neighbor died, will be a day that is commemorated for years to come.
Unsurprisingly though, it is not the date of his death that is remembered each year, but this day. March 20th. The date of his birth. And it feels right, somehow, to honor this perpetually positive man not on the day that he left this world, but rather the day that he came into it. To celebrate his legacy of hope and neighborly lessons on a happy day, rather than a sad one.
In Pittsburgh, March 20th is designated as "Won't You Be My Neighbor Day." A day when the The Fred Rogers Company urges us all to wear our favorite sweaters, and do something to be a good neighbor. On this day, The Pittsburgh Children's Museum offers free admission so kids can play in the original set from the show and climb through a giant red trolley. Volunteerism is encouraged throughout the city.
In Pittsburgh, and across the country, Mr. Rogers will never be forgotten.
Every time there is a tragic event, from the 9/11 attacks to the Newtown school shootings, our grief is eased just a little when we hear his familiar voice telling us to "look for the helpers."
And the first bars of the song "Won't You Be My Neighbor" are enough to make anyone over the age of twenty stop and smile.
His message is timeless; his legacy eternal.
Happy 85th birthday Mr. Rogers. Today, and every day, you are our favorite neighbor.
|Won't You Be My Neighbor Day, 2009|
Where we met Mr. McFeely and felt like we were meeting a rock star