On this day after Halloween, I’ve got Daniel Striped Tiger on my mind. Daniel is the puppet tiger from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on the children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I didn’t see any trick-or-treaters dressed as Daniel last night, but, still, I’m thinking of that soft-spoken tiger who lived in a clock without hands on the outskirts of Make-Believe who once told his friend Lady Aberlin, “It feels awful to get forgotten.”
Watching that show as a kid, my favorite part was the trips to Make-Believe and the encounters with Daniel in particular. Yes, it had a little to do with the fact that Daniel and I shared the same name. But it was more because I felt like Daniel’s character had far fewer appearances than his puppet peers in and around the castle, the centerpiece of the neighborhood. It seemed like I always saw King Friday or Lady Elaine Fairchilde or Henrietta Pussycat or X the Owl before I would ever get to see Daniel on the other side of Make-Believe. I felt for Daniel in that respect. Not seeing him as much as everyone else had an impact on me.
Daniel popped into my mind at our church’s trunk-or-treat event the other night when I noticed that one of our church members was parked a bit father away from most of the other cars. Looking at her on that far side of the parking lot, sitting in a chair by herself, waiting to give candy to any trick-or-treaters who might come her way, I saw Daniel hoping for a passerby to notice him outside his timeless clock residence.
And last night, when only seven costumed kids knocked on our door to trick-or-treat (a record number for Casa De Leon), I felt a tinge of Daniel’s bruised lament from being passed by, overlooked, forgotten.
What gives me peace when I catch those glimpses of marginalized experiences and have occasions of feeling that way myself is the steadfast faith of Mr. Rogers. Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister who knew Jesus, and who—knowing Jesus—understood that, in God’s neighborhood that Jesus called the kingdom, no one is ever forgotten. It seems to me that Rev. Rogers created Make-Believe Neighborhood on the premise that one’s circumstances of being out-of-sight does not justify them being out-of-mind, not ever. As Jesus made a point of saying to Simon the Pharisee when a nameless woman was sitting on the sidelines of his home being dismissed by all of his male guests, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44).
Jesus insisted on visiting Zacchaeus, a tax collector shoved to the side of a society that didn’t accept him as “one of us.” Jesus hung out with prostitutes, lepers, and children, all of them cast to the margins of the biblical neighborhood. Jesus even made time for oppressors, acknowledging a centurion and publicly affirming his faith (Matthew 8:11). To his dying breath on a cross, Jesus was inviting forgotten people into the center of God’s neighborhood: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
So, on this first day of a new month, look around and take in the full landscape of the neighborhood where you have been placed at this specific time in your life. As you take it all in, notice your neighbors living in the shadows of popular narratives, celebrated lifestyles, and centered experiences. Listen for the voices from the margins speaking as softly as Daniel spoke; and, as Mary “pondered these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19), let those perspectives inform and shape not only your standard of normalcy, but the very foundation of your faith.
And if you are feeling the awfulness of being forgotten yourself, take hope in the assurance that you are never alone, that you belong in the Divinely-designed neighborhood of God’s love, and that you are not forgotten despite whatever circumstances you may find yourself in at this present moment. In whatever loneliness or separateness you are experiencing right now, know that you are loved too deeply to ever be separate from the heart of God.