Remember…we are neighbors. Whether you are a friend or a stranger, the one thing I know is that YOU are a gift. Each person has something unique and special to offer. A part of you that will change the world, whether big or small, but will change it nonetheless. It may sound cliche, but it cannot be said enough, as so many of us are notorious for undervaluing ourselves. We sell ourselves short, we settle, or worse, we keep ourselves hidden away in shame.
In this world, there are definitely people who are not a gift. They are more like a heavy burden or cruel joke. But think about them for a second. Whether it’s someone you know personally or not, whether it’s someone who’s hurt you or not. Strip everything away. All the mistakes, all the self-absorption, all the hangups, and think about what is left. Sometimes it’s just a shell, or perhaps there is hardly anything salvageable left, but the gift of life is or at least was in there. It’s important to acknowledge those who are lost, as they are part of the story too. Even deep within them, there is a gift waiting to be shared.
But right now, I want you to spend time looking within.
You are a force, you are an experience, you are a gift. But what makes you a gift? What did you do to become a something special for this world? It’s really rather simple. You’re you! Our souls are the great equalizer. Remove the external limits and inequities, and we find who we really are. One of a kind, destined for hope.
Now there is someone I greatly admire who deeply believed in the gift of others. He was a quiet, kind gentlemen some of you may have heard of, Fred Rogers. He’s best known from the popular children’s program Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
He taught his viewers, young and old, that they were brave and strong, creative and imaginative. That they are special just the way they are. He helped children dealing with worry and stress over divorce, conflict, and violence. He reassured them that their curiosities, fears, and feelings were ok. He reminded us all that we have value. We are gifts.
Mister Rogers’ final goodbye to his viewers aired in 2001. He died of cancer only two years later. And though his legacy continues after his passing, it’s been awfully quiet in the neighborhood. Who will fill his shoes and dawn that soft, warm sweater to tell others, “I like you just the way you are”?
My dear neighbor, it is up to us. It’s a gift I hope to give to you, and one that I hope you will share.
But also know, it’s important to remember that being a gift is not to be confused with inaction. Remember, love is an action. You must cultivate, tend to, and let blossom those special qualities, skills, and talents, that make you who you are.
Think about a time when you have given of yourself, and the impact was far greater than you anticipated. It could have been a hug when someone really needed it, being vulnerable in front of others, or advocating for social justice. Or you may be wholly unaware of your impact.
I know there have been times I had no idea how I helped someone until they opened their hearts to me to tell me. And sometimes we may never know. You have impacted this world. I’m sure of it, even if I don’t intimately know all the ways in which you have done so.
And just as important as it is to GIVE love, it is equally important to receive. To accept kindness and support from others, to receive their gifts with gratitude. In the spirit of Mister Rogers, I’d like to share a moment with you that he has with many others. Would you pause along with me to think about the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have cared about you and who wanted what is best for you in life. Whomever you were thinking about, how pleased they must be, to know the difference you feel they’ve made.
And know that somewhere, whether past present or future, someone is holding you in their heart and mind, for being just the way you are.
*This post was adapted from a my TEDx talk “You Are a Gift, featuring the Wisdom of Mister Roger” given on April 28, 2017.