No one stood up when the credits began to roll.
Whispered wows mixed with the sound of sniffling as we reached for tissues, blinked our eyes, and stayed for just a moment longer.
Like so many others, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Childhood memories flooded back as the red trolley, the closet full of sweaters hung with care, and the familiar and welcoming face of Mr. Rogers filled the big screen.
At the time, I’m not sure I understood just how unusual — in every wonderful way — the Neighborhood was.
Mr. Rogers took the time to truly listen to everyone he encountered, made space for those who were different than him, and fought with kindness for what he believed in. He was a gentle man with conviction, a humble man with doubts, and he dared to simply be himself.
Nearly two months have passed since I sat in the theater, smiling wide as I wiped tears from my eyes. But one particular moment from the Won’t You Be My Neighbor documentary has stayed with me. Honestly, I have no recollection of hearing the song as a child. But as a twenty-five-year-old, it struck a chord deep within me.
“I’ve been wondering if I was a mistake,” Daniel Tiger quietly admits to Lady Aberlin. As he explains that no other tiger looks, talks, or loves like he does, the words to the song “Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake” begin to spill out. They’re honest and raw, true and familiar — not because I remember this particular song from childhood, but because I’ve heard the words inside. Maybe you have, too?
You could have heard a pin drop in the theater, one hundred adults collectively holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen next. And then, Lady Aberlin’s response, so simple and sweet:
It’s really true
I like you
Crying or shaking or dreaming or breaking
There’s no one mistaking it
You’re my best friend
I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You’re not a fake
You’re no mistake
You are my friend
Lady Aberlin sang the words that every heart longs to hear. And then, much to my surprise, the song became a duet, doubts and truth sung to the same tune at the same time. My mouth hung wide open as tears ran down, stunned by the honesty of their voices mingling together.
Because it doesn’t happen overnight, does it? We work up the courage to share our doubts and fears with a trusted friend, but even when we’re met with kindness and truth, even when light breaks into the darkness, there are still shadows.
It takes time to replace lies with truth, and so we just keep on singing — together.
Several years ago, a trusted friend and I sat on an old wooden bench as I dared to whisper the words that screamed in the dark. I was terrified she’d confirm what I feared to be true, but as my words hung in the air she spoke truth and reminded me of Scripture. Much like Lady Aberlin, she simply and sweetly cut in and put new lyrics to a familiar tune.
She didn’t erase the song, and even all these years later, some days it still plays in the background. But in that moment, the solo became a duet.
Sometimes we just need someone to sing with us, to remind us of what’s true, to speak love and life and hope into the doubts, the fears, the questions.
Would you allow me to be your neighbor today? Whatever song you’re singing, whatever fear you’re facing, whatever lie is whispering inside, allow these words to join the mix:
Everything is going to be okay.
You’re braver than you know, loved more than you dare to dream.
You have not been forgotten.
You aren’t a mistake.
There’s room for you here.
You’re loved not for what you do, but for who you are.
Even in the in between and unknown, you are not alone.
Your story matters.
Eventually, my friend and I left the bench and walked home. Many years later, in a crowded movie theater, the lights came on as a room full of adults reached for tissues and car keys.
This is how it goes, over and over again. This is the work of being a neighbor. We show up. We listen. We speak the truth. We love. And then we go home and do the same.
As Mr. Rogers said, “The greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know they’re loved.”
Let’s be neighbors and friends, sisters and mentors and women, who bring out the good in one another, who speak Truth to the lies and hold hands through the dark.
Let’s keep singing — together.