I Have To Be My Neighbor

When I worked at an air charter company in Latrobe, PA, we once had the opportunity to fly Mr. Rogers – yes, THAT Mr. Rogers – cardigan, sneakers, the whole nine. Everyone in our organization who dealt with him that day was a professional, not wet behind the ears and we had all dealt with celebrities before.  Still.  When Mr. Rogers walked into that lobby, we were all instantly five, peeking at him around corners, scuffing our toes on the floor.  I KNEW I was being ridiculous; but, I couldn’t seem to stop myself!  When I spoke with Mr. Rogers’ brother-in-law some weeks later, he assured me that it happened all the time and that Fred loved it.

safe placeI suppose he would have, wouldn’t he?  In the instant that we all became children in his company, he knew that he had a special place in all of our hearts and memories.  He was a positive point of reference. For many children, he was likely their ONLY positive point of reference.  In abusive and neglectful homes, the words coming from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood may have been the only kind ones those children heard all day.  What an incredible thing for him to know! And what an incredible man to continue to do it for so many years in the face of so much mockery!

The older I get, the more aware I am of the toxic recordings in my own mind. Even though I didn’t start them, I’m the one who keeps looping them. “You can’t do it.” “You’re not good enough.” “You don’t deserve any better.” “You look too much like Ann-Margaret.” (Okay, that last one isn’t real but I’m trying to start it).  These negative recordings are all variations on a theme that I am coming to believe nearly all of us fight with. We all feel (as my friend Laura used to say) Less Than – less than someone else, less than expected, less than enough.

When we are young, we are limited in how we can control or change an unsafe, unkind or unhealthy environment.  However, once we are grown, that control shifts a great deal.  I won’t say that we can always control or change those environments – to say that would be to presume I know everything and I’ve already told y’all that: 1. I don’t have all the answers, 2. I’m not even clear on all the questions, and 3. The knowledge I share comes from what worked and what didn’t work for me.  However, I will say that we can control or change more of those environments than we usually give ourselves credit for.  We are often quick to snap up that Victim title when we are more accurately Volunteers.

Those toxic recordings?  TURN THEM OFF!  I have to remind myself to do this all the time.  All. The. Time.  Like a dog with a squirrel, my mind heads right back to the bad thoughts and I have to jerk it around again. I am the only one who can do that for myself and it’s a nonstop process.

However, to be successful in anything, I have to be kind to myself, to make my mind a safe place and to be my own neighbor. And I have to continue doing that as long as I have breath and lucidity to do it.

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