O, how the mighty have fallen!
March 7 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

O, how the mighty have fallen! | Friday, March 7, 2003

Friday, March 7, 2003

O, how the mighty have fallen!

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

David's plaintive lament for Saul and Jonathan may seem out of place for a man best known for his gentleness, but Fred Rogers was a mighty man, and he has fallen.

It's a terrible day in the neighborhood when you wake up to learn that Mister Rogers is dead.

We didn't even know he was sick. He was like that, never drawing attention to himself, always more concerned for others. Rogers could have announced that he was suffering from stomach cancer when it was diagnosed just a few months ago, but he didn't want people feeling sorry for him. That would have distracted them from receiving the blessing he wanted to give to them.

At 74 years old and only recently retired, he was far too young to die, far too health-conscious and far too good - but cancer is no respecter of persons, and God is no guarantor of perfect protection, even for the best of us.

Jan and I were fortunate to count Fred Rogers as a friend. Almost 10 years ago, shortly after our young daughter Bethany died, I wrote a letter to thank Mister Rogers for being a part of her neighborhood, and for contributing so positively to her sense of self-worth.

Within a week, he brightened a dark day by phoning us at home. He asked if he could call us by our first names, insisted that we call him Fred, and talked (mostly listened) for nearly an hour. He invited us to stay in touch, and we did. I sent copies of things we had written, and he always responded with kind and encouraging words.

When Fred spoke during graduation ceremonies at N.C. State University several years ago, he invited us to attend and have lunch with other guests in the stadium field house.

And what do I remember most? A disheveled little boy, uninvited, with hands and nose pressed against the glass wall between the lobby and dining room - and Fred leaving his lunch untouched to go over and invite the boy in, kneeling to talk with him eye-to-eye, as if he were the most important person in the room. And he was.

Jan and I once visited Fred at the public television studios in Pittsburgh. His small office was as snug as a hug, old and comfortable as a well-worn sneaker, cluttered with letters to answer and trolleys to sign for sick children.

There was no room for distance, no desk, no computer, just a sagging sofa and cozy chairs and close conversation, like a teddy bear's den designed for friends.

The walls were covered with pictures and framed inscriptions. A text written in Hebrew spoke of love, and a plaque bearing the Greek word charis proclaimed grace. A French quotation from St. Exupery's The Little Prince declared "L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux" (What is essential is invisible to the eye).

I was fascinated by a large piece of Chinese calligraphy, which he interpreted as an old proverb meaning "If you want to see yourself clearly, don't look in muddy water."

There was nothing muddy about Mister Rogers. Perhaps reflecting back the "essential you" was what he did best, for when he said "You are special" or "I like you just the way you are," you came to believe it just might be true - it must be true - Mister Rogers wouldn't lie to you.

The last note I received from him - handwritten, as always - included words of appreciation for faithful friendship, a BRAVO! (all uppercase) for the copy of 1-2 Samuel I had sent him, and a remembrance of Bethany.

He never forgot what first sparked our friendship. When Jan learned of his death, she found great comfort in thinking that now Bethany and Mister Rogers could be playing together.

Most of the children who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood didn't know he was an ordained minister, set apart by his church to work with children. Being known as "Reverend" was not important to him, but he was the holiest man I ever met, and maybe the bravest.

There is no power so great as love, no force so mighty as self-giving, no hero so needed as a friend of children.

O, how the mighty have fallen!

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3/7/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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