I have the words to Mr. Roger’s timeless song at the forefront of my mind these days. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Tim Madigan, an esteemed journalist who became friends with Fred Rogers during a very difficult time in his life. Tim was at one of those low points that I believe most people encounter in their lives at some point, perhaps in a different form.
For Tim, the low point was his battles with a deep depression and what seemed like an imminent divorce. During this time, he looked to his friend, Fred Rogers for counsel and most importantly, acceptance.
In his book, I’m Proud of You: My Friendship With Fred Rogers, Tim explains the bond he had with this man who so many of us remember fondly from our childhood. (Well, for me, I remembered him fondly, but I wasn’t so crazy about those puppets. They freaked me out a little.)
Back to Tim. As he was contemplating getting a divorce, a divorce that he was driving, he wrote a letter to Mr. Rogers and asked him if he could still accept his friendship and forgive him as a man who would make this life changing step.
Mr. Rogers wrote him a long letter back, but the words that captured me the most sprung out at me from the first paragraph.
“Please know that I will never forsake you, that I will never be disappointed with you, that I would never stop loving you.”
I will never forsake you.
What a powerful thing to say. And what a powerful gift to receive from someone you love and admire.
I often think of the shame and hurt we carry in our lives due to the disappointments we feel. These disappointments might be ones we believe our family, friends and employers feel towards us. Or they might be deeply buried disappointments we feel for ourselves.
This shame and these disappointments build over time. And they place an unfair burden on all of us – one so heavy to hold that we sometimes fall beneath the weight of it. I have fallen before. In some ways, I believe many of us are continually looking for ways to get back up, because that weight can feel constant. The burden can be tremendous.
But imagine that your life was one where you were given the gift of acceptance by all the people you love and care for. Imagine that you took the stance that you would not place judgement and plant more seeds of shame for the people that you love in your life. What a gift that would be? What better gift could you give?
Human beings are prone to criticize. We are wired to look for how things can be improved, enhanced, fixed, made to shine more. We don’t stand still and accept things for what they are, because we know that the 2.0 version of it is just around the corner.
We do the same things with the people in our lives. We do it to our parents, to our children, to our friends and to our employees. We often do it without even realizing that we are doing it, because it’s what we know. We have watched our parents, teachers and spouses do it to us. And ultimately we learn that it’s what we do with our children and loved ones.
But just imagine, for just a minute, what it would feel like to know that despite your imperfections, despite your perceived shortcomings, or mistakes, or disappointments, that you knew that without question you were accepted, loved. And never forsaken.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
I believe we already belong to each other in a way. And we are here on this crazy planet to help each other navigate through the highs and the lows of life. I believe each of us would feel a freedom in living without armor and realizing that we can’t control what others accept about us, but we can give acceptance and love freely and without fear. Our lives would be so much better for it.
I thank Mr. Rogers for his wisdom and his open heartedness. For teaching us about civility, grace and acceptance. He lived wholeheartedly, which is obvious from the words he used with Tim.
His words remind me of one of the most important responsibilities we all have. Think of the gift you can give to people in your life. Whether it’s in the form of forgiveness, acceptance, or just opening yourself to listen. You have that power and you have the ability to impact someone’s life today.
I will never forsake you, friends. As I hope you will never forsake me.
Peace and light.