On Sunday, I came across a body, lying by the side of the road—an expanding pool of blood seeping from the head.
I did not think it was real at my initial glance. I saw a foreshortened heap of clothes, tangled up in a bike. But when I got closer, the human proportions, and I realized that a gray hoodie had obscured the face, which was smashed against the pavement.
A woman had pulled up and was already calling 911 from her car. I hopped off my bike and began calling out answers to her questions from the dispatcher on the other line:
“He is breathing,” I said. His chest rose irregularly, and, every time he exhaled, the blood under his face rippled. “But he is not responsive.”
Two other women walking by joined me. One said she heard him wipe out as she turned the corner. We decided not to touch him, in case there were internal injuries. We waited, waving away cars trying to come down the road. First, the police officer came. He coolly stepped out or the car, spoke to the man, and gently brushed his upturned back pockets for an ID. There was none, but, by then, the man was stirring. With a faint grunt, he seemed to be trying to turn over. I disentangled the bike from his legs.
“Don’t move, buddy,” the policeman told him. Then the paramedics arrived, and we watched as they hoisted the awkward bundle onto stretcher and slid him into the ambulance. The two other ladies and I looked at each, murmuring, “I hope he’ll ok.” We could do no more, and we went our separate ways.
As I parked my bike several blocks away, I heard the ambulance screeching down Cedar Road toward the hospital. And it was only then that I began to think about man as my neighbor. Who was he? Was he from my neighborhood? Did he have children or a family to care for him? Who would he call from the hospital? Or who would the hospital call for him? Lord have mercy.
As I’ve thought back to this grisly Sabbath scene, I realize the experience was strangely framed by something else I’ve been thinking about: Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood. Notices about Mr. Rogers, a personal saint of mine and many, many other people, have peppered my recent social media feeds because this past Monday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Do yourself a favor and read some of these stories (or, I could say internet hagiography) about Fred Rogers. Accounts of his kindness are amazingly consistent and continually moving. I was reading one such story before I left my house on that Sunday afternoon. Since then, two of his famous dictums have been on my mind.
First, I finally realized (rather obtusely on my part) that behind Mr. Rogers’ famous charge to “look for the helping people” in the midst of tragedy lies an implicit injunction not only look but to be a helping person when you grow up.
Second, when considering the question “Who is my neighbor?” Mr. Rogers’ attitude echoed the famous answer from St. Luke. As one source in a recent Atlantic article explains, “His definition of ‘neighbor’ was whomever you happen to be with at the moment, especially if they are in need.” This expansive definition of neighbors incorporates the relationships with people we love our whole lives and our chance encounters with strangers in the street. It’s a holy privilege I realized I need to be reminded of more often.
I’ve loved Mr. Rogers since I was child, but this year I’m thankful for him in a new way. I’m grateful for his gentle legacy and for his comforting words, which, I discovered this week, are still shaping how I see the world.
After a trial-by-fire year as public school substitute teacher and fly-by-night freelancer, Julia will shed the tribulations of the work-world to embark on a MA in art history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. If you are in town, she’ll gladly take you to a local museum. She enjoys walks, leopard print, and good conversation.