A few days ago, I found myself in a conversation with a young visionary. Somehow the subject of what a shaman might be came up, as it so often does, and I found myself reminiscing about some of the things my teachers taught me about the tasks of the shaman. Listening to my own stories, I realized there was a theme. It seemed to me then, and still does, that, at least in the traditions into which I was initiated, the central task of the shaman is to be a good neighbor to all who inhabit the myriad realms.
Thinking about this, I was reminded that the first time my Amazonian teachers publicly acknowledge me as a shaman, rather than an apprentice, was when I was handing out school supplies to students and teachers in a remote Amazonian community. The school had almost no resources, and while my suitcase filled with art and writing materials seemed paltry when compared to the need, I did what I could. That, it turned out, was enough.
On this gorgeous early spring day I find myself thinking about neighborliness, and Fred Rogers, the long time host of one of the most important children’s television shows ever produced in the United States. Dr. Rogers was famous for his cheerful and direct way of being, his empathy, his sweater, and his neighborliness. His appeal cut across cultures and socioeconomic barriers, touching kids for generations. How often I have heard folks say, “When I was growing up, home could be a hard place. Yet every weekday I could depend on time in the safety and happiness of Mr Roger’s Neighborhood.” (This link will bring you to some videos!)
During this tumultuous political season, one filled with hatred, threat, and the blatant degradation of all who one disagrees with, it makes good sense to remember the art of being neighborly: concerned, kind, and compassionate. Fred Rogers has been gone for many years now, and his legacy of teaching neighborliness seems to have been largely forgotten. Maybe it’s time to revive it; I think Mr. Rogers would be happy if we did.
Come on, let’s all sing, together: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a lovely day in the neighborhood…. Will you be my neighbor?”
Fred, you are missed.