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A grownup once asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" The man didn't ask because he wanted to be a neighbor, but because he wanted to find a loophole around being a neighbor. The man asked that question to "justify himself." Grownups tend do that.

Something else grownups tend to do these days is yank children into the adult world. Whether putting them on schedules as demanding as those of company presidents, dressing them up as beauty queens, leaving them all day under the eye of someone who doesn't love them like a parent, or simply surrendering their souls to the television, many grownups leave children in a disorienting world with nary an adult hand to guide them.

One grownup, however, has been an abiding adult presence for children for over three decades. He calls himself a neighbor. He is a gentleman—spindly and unflappable—who sings songs and animates puppet fantasies. Many grownups scratch their heads at the power this man has over their children. What is the attraction, they think, of a silly man who, every day, walks through the same door of a studio home, all smiles, singing It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood? Every day the man pulls off his sport jacket and dons a cardigan sweater and sits on a bench to remove his shoes, replacing them with canvas tennis shoes, still singing—It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood, a neighborly day for a beauty—would you be mine? Could you be mine?

He is Mister Rogers and his neighborhood friends, young and old, answer that question with a resounding Yes, I'll be your neighbor!—bewildered though they may be about how it could possibly be a beautiful day every day in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Through his daily half-hour children's program, Fred Rogers opens the door to childhood ...

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March 6, 2000

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