A close friend of mine sent me this icon he commissioned of an iconographer. If you knew my friend, you would know why. My friend is one of the kindest men I know.
There seems to be a lot being written about Fred Rogers these days and I think it is because we all sense we need him again. He left the Church to find a ministry behind a camera, teaching children (and their watching parents) about life. There have been so many television ministries and yet his is the only one I can imagine watching.
Fred Rogers made God the center of his work and yet rarely mentioned God. He asked piercing questions and then remained silent, no matter how long it took for an answer. He believed in people and he believed in himself while also believing that nothing was about him.
I often think he would have liked my black lab Kai-the-dog. I want to be like them, Kai and Mr. Rogers – kind, soft, gentle, strong, wise.
Life on Whidbey Island can sometimes feel very enclosed. One cannot go very far before getting wet in the Salish Seas of Puget Sound. Through every forest is a beach, no matter which way one wanders. Water.
Fred Rogers once said, “The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.”
This season can be so hard for many people. While some gather around big tables, others see empty chairs of departed loved-ones. While some shop until they drop, others are worried about paying their heat bill. While some wonder what they can give to others, there will always be those who will take from others.
I recently saw an experiment. Someone took three glass jars, placed them about a foot apart, placed an inch of rice in them and then an inch of water. Every day this person quite literally looked into the first jar and said to the rice and water, kind and loving things like “I love you.” And “You are beautiful.” He then spoke to the second jar and said horrible things like “I hate you.” And “You are useless.” He then stood up and walked past the third jar without even looking at it.
A month later the first jar was gently and happily bubbling with clean fermentation, white and edible. The second jar was riddled with black mold and frightening growths. But the third jar, the one he daily ignored, was entirely jet black and had rotted to the extent of being poisonous and putrid. Try it at home, but be sure just to use rice.
In these holiday seasons, we have an opportunity to help each other to feel worthwhile. We have the opportunity to walk each other home. That does not mean that we agree with everyone or that we are sickly-sweet to people. It means that we notice them, engage them and are kind to them.
Our culture tends to encourage us to move on to the next sparkly thing – then next car, the next house, the next device, the next job, the next partner, the next trick, the next lover, the next church, the next fascination, the next sale, the next web site.
To live lives from which love emerges, we might linger with people, maintain our boundaries, but look them deep in the eyes and say that they are seen, that they are loved, that they matter. In our attempt to do so much, and get so much, and take so much, we can treat people and the planet such that great harm is done simply by our careless abandonment rather than by any overt act or cruel word.
I was abandoned by my parents and it has taken a long time to realize that abandonment is the worst possible abuse, worse than a beating, worse than screaming, worse than the belt. Like the third rice jar, when we are abandoned we putrefy. And yet, just the slightest word conveying worth will feed the soul.
I wish I could say I learned what I have learned about life from the Bible. I have not, since there are some conflicting messages and some antiquated and angry perspectives. I wish I could say I have learned what I know from my parents or my clergy but again, no. My early formation was watching Mr. Rogers who drilled kindness into my soul such that it might then seep back out.
We, my neighbors and I, live on a small island. It will be a good island if we residents – bunnies, deer, humans – are able and willing to be kind to each other and remind each other of our worth. So with an island; a nation, a Church, a planet.