I've Always Wanted to Have a Neighbor Just Like You
A Reflection on Willa Cather's Neighbor Rosicky
Mr. Rogers is etched in my psyche. When he asked me, “please won't you be my neighbor?” I answered, “Yes.” Anyone who has ever sat glued to the television as Fred Rogers spoke to the camera about Neighbor Aber, or listened as he narrated how peanut butter is made, or watched with rapt attention as he plucked the strings of some old beat-up instrument, knows that you quickly forget about the fact that you have never actually met this man and realize that you cannot not like this fellow. To borrow a bit from Bunyan, he is kindly Mr. Every Uncle. His eyes are calm and caring, assuring and loving. This is a man whose words you can trust. And he speaks to you as if you are the most important person he has ever spoken to in a manner which leaves you convinced that he has just revealed to you the secrets of the universe. It's easy to let yourself believe that he really is your neighbor.
In the Rosicky neighborhood, it is Mr. Rosicky who holds the place of Mr. Rogers. Indeed, in Polly we might see Lady Aberlin; in Dr. Ed we might see Mr. McFeely; though busy in his trade he is trusted, even intimate, he is little more than a cast extra and yet somehow so crucial to the neighborhood he seems like lead role. Probably because while he is on stage, Rogers yields to him the best light. We see this with Dr. Ed, and Dr. Ed knows it. Perhaps all neighborhoods, whether real or imagined, tend to bond around those men whose hands are most human; whose hand has “some cleverness in it, a great deal of generosity, and something else...something nimble and lively and sure”. We are not dealing in stereotypes here. We're not seeking out the strong and silent types, or a macho, macho man, but a man in whose hands is life. Hands which, like Christ, bear the wounds of sacrifice, and yet are outstretched and welcoming.
As Polly remembered Mr. Rosicky, so I remember Mr. Rogers. “It seemed to her that she had never learned so much about life from anything as from old Rosicky's hand. It brought her to herself; it communicated some direct and untranslatable message.” (1922) Mr. Rogers hands were of a different sort, a neighborhood which could make you believe that...
Mr. Fred Rogers, R.I.P.