Published by

Tim Madigan

Tim Madigan is a University of North Dakota graduate, a former part-timer in the Grand Forks Herald sports department and a native of Crookston, Minn. After working on a small N.D. newspaper after graduating from UND, he covered the police beat at Odessa, Texas, later writing features for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where he became of one the state's most recent decorated journalists (three times named the state's top reporter). He's also written several books including “See No Evil: Blind Devotion and Bloodshed in David Koresh's Holy War", “The Burning, Massacre, Destruction and Tulsa Race Riot in 1921” and “I'm Proud of You: My Friendship With Fred Rogers.”

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — The Dark Genius Of Humanity

How many really know you? How many know of your fear, your sadness, your shame, your anger, your depression? They are questions worth asking at any time, but particularly this week.

I had no clue who Kate Spade was, so her suicide registered faintly, but the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death jolted me. I saw a lot of living, a lot of pain in his 61-year old face, but he was traveling the world, doing things that most of us can only dream of doing, with joie de vivre and roguish panache. And dead now, from his own hand, in his France hotel room.

How many knew the truth of his life?

I’ve come to believe that the great tragedy of humanity is not our inevitable pain, the frailties and struggles but the isolation so many of us feel. The great Catholic writer, Henri Nouwen, a transparent sufferer himself, famously said that what is most personal is most universal. By that he meant that those frailties are precisely what we have most in common with others. Yet we remain inclined to believe that we are unique, comparing our tattered insides with the outsides of others, not knowing that most of those others pretend like we pretend. The dark genius of humanity is our great ability to conceal the truth of our insides from one another. We are all such great actors.

I was damn good at it, too. In the mid-1990s, when I was enjoying success and recognition in my career, I was dying inside. I understand suicide, how the terrible disease of depression can trump all love and logic. I also understand how isolating depression can be. I’m lucky to be alive myself, frankly, lucky that the choice I eventually made was to try and defy the disease and reach out to others, Fred Rogers included.

I’ve traveled a long road to heal —  know that it takes patience and loads of self-acceptance, and trusted others who know the truth about your insides and find it a privilege to walk with you, sharing their own truths along the way. Finding those people takes some discernment … but they are everywhere, waiting.

This week I spent sacred hours talking about the deepest things with friends who know me to my marrow, who have walked with me through the darkness and now accompany me to this amazing place of light and peace. This week I read of skyrocketing suicide rates, and celebrity suicides and can’t help but wonder, how many really knew those who died.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — ‘Go Placidly Amid The Noise And Haste …’

Up early on Sunday morning, in time to hear a gentle rain begin to fall, a brief reprieve from the coming heat of a Texas summer. As I sat listening, this phrase popped into my head.

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste …”

I saw it years ago on a poster hanging on the wall of a friend’s kitchen. As I listened to the rain, I looked up the whole thing, “Desiderata.” Very glad I did. Max Ehrmann’s poem are words for our time, even this:

“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

“Happy to share the rest.

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

“As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.

“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

“Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

“Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — Psych 101: How To Be (Really) Happy

In the autumn of 1995, on my first visit to the office of Fred Rogers in Pittsburgh, I noticed three Emmy Awards stacked in the clutter atop a filing cabinet, like neglected bookends. No trophy case for Fred.

I asked him about the awards.

“I don’t know how to talk of it,” the icon of children’s television said . “If it’s the outside stuff that’s going to nourish you …”

It was a passing comment, made before we sat down for the first of several long and wonderful interviews about important things. But in that moment, Fred touched upon what I think is a great tragedy of our age. We continue to believe that the outside stuff is going to nourish us, make us truly happy, bring peace and meaning to our lives.

My heart breaks especially for young people, the students obsessed with test scores and college admissions, grade point averages and getting a leg up on the world. It is really a surprise that studies show that nearly half of all college students feel deeply anxious or hopeless?

Which is why I found a recent story in the Washington Post story so poignant and hopeful. It described a Yale psychology class in which the professor, Laurie Santos, surprised her students one day by canceling her lecture. There was one huge caveat. They couldn’t use the 75 minutes to study, they had to enjoy it.

Laurie Santos
Laurie Santos

“Nine students hugged her,” wrote the Post’s Susan Svrluga. “Two burst into tears.”

A senior visited the Yale Art Gallery for the first time in four years. Others went to a recording studio and worked on a song. Another ate the lunch he had been skipping to study and played Frisbee. Another took a nap. (Do yourself a favor and read the whole story here.)

Word began to spread about the course entitled Psychology and the Good Life, and nearly a quarter of the Yale student body signed up. Santos designed the class a few years ago after witnessing the misery of so many young people on campus, an experience “far more crushing and joyless than her own college years,” the story said.

“I worry so much how they’re going to look back on it,” Santos said. “They feel they’re in this crazy rat race, they’re working so hard they can’t take a single hour off — that’s awful.”

But it’s not just young people, and not just this generation. It was in the 1800s that Henry David Thoreau wrote “the mass of men (and women, it’s safe to say,) lead lives of quiet desperation.”

That certainly describes my life in the mid-1990s, when I met Fred Rogers. As a man in my early 40s, my depression and despair were carefully hidden, but deep and seemingly impenetrable. Fred called them my Furies.

The cure, I believed, would be professional recognition. I believed that right up until I started winning a series of major awards for my writing. Needless to say, they did nothing to alleviate my inner torments, and if anything, made them worse. The awards, it turned out, were fool’s gold. I started to ask myself the question, if success and acclaim isn’t the point of all this, what is?

I’m still trying to answer that for myself, but it seems to have something to do with these things.

  • A commitment to personal and spiritual growth.
  • Trying to be a good husband, father and friend.
  • Attempting to use my work to serve, rather than to feather my own proverbial nest.

I’m not completely naïve. As a practical matter, we still need to eat, pay mortgages and help pay for college and for medical insurance. I have never turned down a royalty check for a book, so far as I recall. In fact, what we do in life might not change at all. It’s the why. And it seems that all the energy I used to channel into taming my demons has been put to much better use being more freely creative, and yes, productive.

In the meantime, I’ve awoken to mountain vistas, storm clouds over the ocean, quiet moments when the sunrises, long naps, Melissa McCarthy movies, guitar and singing and yes, Frisbee with the dog.

Not fool’s gold, it turns out, but the real thing.

Meanwhile, at Yale, administrators struggle to find a room large enough for what has become known as “the happiness class.” It’s the largest class in Yale’s 300-year history.

“So many students have told (Professor Santos) the class changed their lives,” the Post story said.

“If you’re really grateful, show me that,” she told them. “Change the culture.”

The story ended with a scene from the last class of the semester.

“Let’s do this!” Santos said.

“Good Life (by Kanye West) began blasting into Woolsey Hall, and more than a thousand Yalies stood up, some laughing, some crying, all applauding. Finals were happening, papers were due, internships and jobs were imminent. Later, they would pour out into the sunshine, hurrying to other classes or exams or the library, and Santos would hug her husband and promise him a date night. But for now students stood and clapped and clapped and clapped, beaming, drowning out even Kanye with their standing ovation. As if they had nothing but time.”

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — Fred Rogers, Richard Rohr And The Truth About Anger

This passage from the great Catholic writer Richard Rohr really struck me when I read it a few days ago:

“Anger is good and very necessary to protect the appropriate boundaries of self and others. I would much sooner live with a person who is free to get fully angry, and also free to move beyond that same anger, than with a negative person who is hard-wired with resentments and pre-existing judgments. Their anger is so well hidden and denied — even from themselves — that it never comes up for the fresh air of love, conversation, and needed forgiveness.”

Richard Rohr.
Richard Rohr.

Rohr’s words reminded me of the day many years ago when a good friend said this to me: “There is a lot of anger in you.” She said it kindly, as an observation not an accusation, but I was stunned nonetheless.

From the time of my boyhood, my persona of choice was the “good guy.” I tried to wrest security and satisfaction from life by pleasing others, often at the expense of myself, and anger just did not fit that schtick. So I repressed my rage and turned my anger in on myself. The result was a deep and chronic depression that by early adulthood threatened to consume me.

I have had a lot of company in this regard. In our recent book on grief, Dr. Patrick O’Malley and I write about the “culture of positivity,” defined by one psychologist as “the widespread social practice of eliminating any attitude and utterance that doesn’t have an uplifting effect on one’s mood and those around them.

“The pressure to think positive pervades our everyday language and practices. It’s the reflexive response, ‘Put on a happy face,’ if we are not smiling. ‘Think cheerful thoughts and good things will happen.’ We feel pressure to display a pleasant countenance even if it is insincere. And we often feel guilty if we’re not quite able to don that cloak. The underlying belief, it seems, is that hurt and discontent can be done away with simply by acting as though it isn’t there.”

Which is crap, of course. But that cultural ethos made it safer for me to turn my anger inward toward my own destruction than acknowledge it as a normal and yes, necessary, part of my humanity.

Fred Rogers and Tim Madigan.
Fred Rogers and Tim Madigan.

Fred Rogers was among those who led me toward truth and healing. I believe one of the most profoundly helpful things Mister Rogers ever said was this:

“There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. (All feelings, anger, sadness, rage.) They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.”

Fred’s words about his own anger were an important part of our first face-to-face conversation. That day in October 1995, sitting in his small office in Pittsburgh, he began to share about his long-time friend, Jim Stumbaugh, who had died of cancer a few weeks before. Fred said he was angry at the disease.

“With grief there is, inevitably, some times of anger and, you know, God can take our anger,” Fred said. “I think God respects the fact that we would share a whole gamut of feelings. I’m a real person. I think kids understand that.

“I’ve told the children there are many things you can do with your feelings that don’t hurt yourself or anyone else, particularly the so called ‘negative’ feelings, anger, sadness and rage. If there is one service I feel television could offer in this world, it would be to give as many examples as possible of people expressing their anger in healthy ways. We see just the opposite on television.”

Hence the title of one of Fred’s most important songs.

“What do you do with the mad you feel (when you feel so mad you can bite?)”

Pound on dough or clay, the song suggests, or organize a game of tag.

I’m a little old for tag, (or maybe I’m not). But I have long come to accept that on that day long ago, my friend was right about my anger, however deeply buried it might have been at the time. The biggest part of my journey of healing over the decades has been first acknowledging, then embracing my anger and rage. Now, instead of turning that dark energy inward, I pour it out in journals, share it with trusted others and try to express it in ways that doesn’t hurt others, though I’m not always successful in that regard.

Some days, during my quiet time in the morning, I simply try to tune into a small voice inside me that says, “You’re really angry today, you’re really hurting.” No judgment there, just self-compassion. Or some days my prayer is simply this, “God, I’m really, really angry.”

And I agree with Fred. God can take it.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — The Simple Secret To Supporting A Grieving Person: Human Presence

At a speaking engagement of mine a few months back, a woman in the audience said something that I will never forget. She had lost her spouse more than a year before and continued to grieve deeply. But something in her suffering had shifted, she said.

“I used to see grief as an enemy,” she said. “After reading your book, I see grief as a companion.”

She referred to “Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss,” which I co-authored with Fort Worth, Texas, grief therapist Patrick O’Malley. In it we tried to normalize grief, to assure readers that bereavement does not conform to steps or stages, that every person’s grief is unique, that grief is not a pathology, a mental illness or a sign of weakness. Ultimately it is an expression of love, how we often redefine a relationship with the person we have lost. The intensity and duration of grief, Patrick tells readers based on his long personal and professional experience, is commensurate with the depth of love for the person now gone.

But though tried to provide comfort and assurance to those who grieve, the book also seeks to educate those who seek to support the bereaved. The short answer is this: To truly support a grieving person, you must willingly enter into his or her pain.

We quote the great Catholic writer, Henri Nouwen:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

“This is a tall order if there ever was one,” Patrick says in our book. “How, exactly, do you show true compassion for a grieving person? Here are a few ideas.

“Show up at the house, visitation or funeral; express simple words of sorrow; and then let the mourning person dictate what happens next. She may open her arms for a hug, or she may clearly want to keep people at a distance. He may be calm or agitated. She may be jovial or weeping. He may want to talk about his loss or about baseball. She may be angry or grateful. Be with them wherever they are.

“I define intimacy as truly knowing another person and being known. Being with a person in grief is a unique, one-way intimacy. You are there to know the grieving person but not to make him or her feel better. Don’t try to move the bereaved from one emotional place to another to make yourself comfortable. Be with them without an agenda. You may be more comfortable with a person’s anger than with their silence, or you may rather talk about sports than the accident — but this isn’t about you.

“Listen with your eyes and respond with nods that convey, “I get it.”

It is indeed a tall order, but a simple one. This is another way of putting it: Just be present. Fred Rogers demonstrated every day of his life the enormous power of pure human presence — humanity without expectation, judgement or agenda —even in the most difficult of times, particularly in the most difficult of times.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — Barbara Bush And The Aspiration To Goodness

My wife and I spent a healing hour watching the news Tuesday night. When was the last time anyone could say that?

The topic, of course, was the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush at age 92. As the tributes poured in, how nice it was to be reminded that her human greatness did not derive from her role as matriarch of a political dynasty. Instead it was her commitment to family and friends, her wisdom, humor, strength, kindness and optimism through decades of triumph and tragedy. It was how she embodied the conviction that honor and service are the noblest of things.

Fred Rogers said, and I think it’s true, that it’s hard to make goodness attractive. But that was certainly never a problem for him, and never for Mrs. Bush. And the recent and ongoing celebration of Fred’s greatness, and the tributes to Barbara Bush are all the more affecting because of the bilious, vulgar, and spiritually corrosive nature of current times.

In my days as a high school hockey coach, I tried to impress upon my players the importance of sportsmanship, integrity, decency and kindness — not as abstract ideals but as things essential to success, peace and true happiness in life. I have often thought of coaches today, teachers and parents of young children who face terrible headwinds as they try to instill those values.

Not that any of us are perfect. Far from it. Every day I fall short of the person I hope to be. But that’s not the point. The point is that we try our best to be good to one another. However often we fail, it is the aspiration toward our higher natures and better angels that I believe is the highest calling in life.

Barbara Bush reminded us of that in her life, and now in her death. For that I am grateful.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — When Are You Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll?

I turned 60 in December, a season in life when, for hobbies, a more sensible person might have turned to watercolors or growing orchids. I have turned to Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Credence, Pink Floyd and REO Speedwagon. I’m not talking about the oldies station on the radio, or air guitar when no one is looking or belting old rock anthems in the shower.

Instead, every week, I haul my electric and acoustic guitars to a practice room at the School of Rock in Fort Worth, Texas, and begin blasting away.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one suffering from this post-post,-post-midlife crisis. Dr. David Donahue, age sixtysomething, is an internationally known pediatric neurosurgeon by day, our drummer by night. Dave is typically late for rehearsals, showing up each week in a stretch limo and with full entourage. Drummers, I guess, are that way.

On keyboard and vocals is Gary Kelly, also aged sixtysomething. Gary is an old friend and veteran of some of our area’s top classic rock bands. He is totally slumming with us, but Gary shows up week after week mostly because we encourage him to channel his inner Mick Jagger.

Joaquin Reyna is 21, our ringer, the music director of the School of Rock who is a guitar savant with a very, very old musical soul. He seems greatly amused by guys who, for whatever reason, refuse to grow up.

On those gloriously loud evenings at the School of Rock, we barrel through the music of our youth. As of now, we go by the name, Loved Starved Dogs, which was suggested by my wife and daughter, and inspired by our codependent puppy, Scuba. Other possible names — Grateful We’re Not Dead; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Not Young; and the Boobie Brothers  — were considered and rejected. As I speak, Gary is composing our own original rock anthem titled … wait for it … Love Starved Dogs.

You cringe. I mean, AC/DC, is on our set list, for crying out loud. Consider the lyrics to “You Shook Me All Night Long,” which I attempt to screech.

She had the sightless eyes, 

Telling me no lies,

Knocking me out with those American thighs.

American thighs? Really?

Yet I do not apologize. Over the decades, I’ve tried to be a loving and responsible husband and father, a friend. I’ve worked hard to tame my many demons. Now, with a dwindling fraction of my life yet to live, perhaps I’m entitled to care less and less about what other people might think. It occurs to me that each week at the School of Rock I’m inoculating myself against regrets later, when I am indeed too old to hold a guitar. I’m living out loud, and I mean loud. I haven’t had this much fun since I quit coaching ice hockey.

I also spend many hours each week practicing guitar, and I am trying to teach myself to sing. Our band will perform some day, coming to an arena, backyard or garage near you, but none of us want the Love Starved Dogs to be a shameless novelty act.

“Isn’t that cute — these old guys up there on stage, making fools of themselves.”

Instead, eventually, we want to be just good enough that when people hear our music they can almost forget who is playing it, can just enjoy the great old tunes, sing along, dance and, to steal a phrase from Billy Joel, “forget about life for a while.”

Of course, this could all end in abysmal, embarrassing failure. Then again, I’ve suffered abysmal, embarrassing failures before, and evidently they are not fatal. I’m still here.

Let me suggest a greater failure — ignoring a passion and stifling a joy because a guy my age should be dabbing at water colors, thinking he is too old to learn to rock.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — Three Hours And Thirty-Two Minutes

I was the new kid in September 1970, attending public school for the first time after years of being taught by Catholic nuns. I walked toward the front door on that first day, passing clusters of unfamiliar junior high students gathered in the morning sun, waiting for the first bell. I imagined whispers about this scrawny, shy newcomer.

Joe Rood.
Joe Rood.

Then one of them stepped out to greet me. My town in Minnesota was a small place, so Joel Rood and I sort of knew each other from Little League, but only sort of. I never would have guessed that he would be the one to extend his hand, tell me he was glad I was there and invite me to join in with his friends.

And this wasn’t just anybody. Joel was the top student in our class, the star athlete. He was a big deal, on other words. If he had my back …The rest of that day, that year, was pretty much a breeze after that.

When recalling that day, I’m reminded of a story that Fred Rogers told me in 1995. The icon of children’s television had been a shy, chubby, musical teenager  — an easy target for bullies — until Jim Stumbaugh, another top student and star athlete, made it known that he thought this Rogers kid was OK.

“Little did I know that that would be the beginning of a lifelong friendship,” Fred said in a speech a year later. “There he was, probably the best-known, smartest, most active person in our class, and he welcomed me day after day.”

Fred called it a “liberating friendship,” one so pivotal to his later success in life “because I had someone who believed in me and wasn’t afraid to say so.”

… and Tim Madigan, in 1976.
… and Tim Madigan, in 1976.

Jim had died of cancer a few weeks before Fred and I met in 1995. Fred spoke at length of his grief.

“You hate to lose such a spirit,” he said.

Perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that Joel Rood had the same impact on my life. Then again, maybe it isn’t. And a few weeks ago, I, too, thought I was about lose a person so foundational to my life and being.

– – –

Like Jim and Fred, my friendship with Joel endured across decades, though our paths diverged sharply after college. He graduated from Princeton and a career in engineering and business took Joel, his wife, Leslye, and their two children around the world. I attended the University of North Dakota and began a career as a writer, eventually landing at a newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas.

Joel turned 60 late last year, a few weeks before me. He and his family had settled in North Carolina, where he was scheduled to have surgery March 27 to repair a faulty heart valve, a serious procedure but not inherently life-threatening.

At 10:25 that morning, Leslye told me in a text that the surgery had gone very well. Her next message came four hours later.

“Terrible news,” it said. “Internal bleeding won’t stop.”

Joel had been rushed back into surgery. Leslye began to cry when I called. She, son, Tim, and daughter, Anneke, had begun a desperate vigil, one that I joined from Texas.

I tried to work, but memories kept intruding. I remembered all the hours Joel and I spent as high school kids, driving country roads at night, talking about girls and sports and the larger world that might be waiting beyond rural Minnesota.

I remembered the baseball games, particularly the final loss on a muggy night in the summer of 1980. Joel and I lingered together in the dugout that night long after the rest of our teammates had dispersed because we knew that the game marked the end of a shared childhood. We would both graduate from college in a few months. There would be no more hometown summers.

Leslye, Joel, Tim and Anneke.
Leslye, Joel, Tim and Anneke.

But mostly I thought of the sunny morning nearly 50 years before, when Joel welcomed a scared new kid to the eighth grade. Strange as it seems to say now, I hadn’t thought of that day for decades. It began to seem less and less likely that I would have the chance to tell Joel how much his kindness and friendship meant.

Five o’clock passed.

Leslye’s text finally came at 5:37. That was three hours and thirty-two minutes after her first dire message.

“They have found the problem and they have fixed that,” it said. “He will be out of surgery soon.”

I was numb with relief, then deeply grateful, but for more than just the obvious. I was reminded again of how Fred Rogers began most speeches. No one becomes who they are alone, he would say, asking his audience to take a few seconds and think of those who “loved you into being.”

That’s what I did on those three hours and thirty-two minutes when Joel was fighting for his life. As harrowing as those minutes were, I am so incredibly glad for the reminder of Joel and what his act of kindness and inclusion had meant.

I talked to him on the phone a few days after his surgery and he sounded great. I started to tell him what I thought about during those terrible hours but struggled to get the words out.

“I know,” Joel said simply. “I know.”

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — The Right Time For Mister Rogers

Five years ago came the news that my memoir, “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers,” was going to be a major motion picture. Two young screenwriters, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, had developed a beautiful script. The directors of the movie “Little Miss Sunshine” had signed on. There was significant buzz in Hollywood and in the Madigan household. Then, for reasons I can’t discuss, the project collapsed. Ugh!

Recently, the world learned that there will be a “Mister Rogers” movie after all, with Tom Hanks in the role of Fred. Noah and Micah have developed another script, this one based on Fred’s friendship with writer Tom Junod of Esquire magazine.

After the news broke, many of you have kindly expressed your disappointment that this movie will not be based on “I’m Proud of You.” And yes, I have recently have had occasion to wonder about what might been. But those thoughts have been fleeting, and my own disappointment has been just a tinge.

Here’s why:

I don’t spend a lot of time these days getting het up about things that I can’t control.

Noah and Micah are two beautiful guys who have devoted so much of their professional lives to telling a story that appropriately venerates our beloved secular saint. No one deserves success more than those two.

Tom Junod is also a very nice man and one of the country’s finest writers. His Esquire profile of Fred is iconic. If you haven’t already, take the time to read it at this link. http://www.esquire.com/…/tv/a27134/can-you-say-hero-esq1198/

Fred Rogers and Tim Madigan.
Fred Rogers and Tim Madigan.

But most importantly, our world needs the example of Fred Rogers now more than ever. This thought occurred to me just today. Five years ago wasn’t the right time for Fred to make it to the big screen. Now is the time, a unique moment in human history when all of us need to become reacquainted with this embodiment of presence, kindness, compassion, civility, love and nonjudgement. We thirst today to be reminded of what is most true about the human spirit.

I do hope that in researching this most challenging role, Tom Hanks finds his way to IPOY. I think he will find it enlightening and useful. But whether he does or does not, I am encouraged, Hanks has been cast in the part. So far as I can tell, he is one of the few actors of our age with the heart and soul to play Fred Rogers.

Godspeed everyone.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — A Great Heart; A Great and Questioning Mind

One day recently, it occurred to me that I had not seen or spoken with my friend, Dick Lord, in more than a year. I found his number and planned to ring him up for a game of golf or another of our long breakfasts at Denny’s, but I heard the news before I could call. Dick had contracted the West Nile virus and was near death. On a hot July morning, hundreds filled University Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, to say goodbye.

Dick was 82, but his father was shooting his age in golf well into his 90s, and I assumed that my friend would be doing the same. His loss was a shock to so many, especially the utterly random way his fatal illness came about.

But something powerful keeps intruding on the sorrow I feel for Dick’s loss. That is gratitude. I had a chance to luxuriate in the grace of a great heart and a great and questioning mind, contained in one extraordinary human being.

Dick and Janice Lord.
Dick and Janice Lord.

Dick was founder and longtime pastor at Rush Creek Christian Church in Arlington, Texas, a congregation just down the street from the home where we lived for many years. It was a uniquely welcoming and progressive place. One example was the importance Dick and his wife, Janice, a nationally known victim’s rights advocate, placed on building relationships with Jewish and Muslim faith communities in Arlington.

When we joined the church in the early 1990s, Rush Creek became a sanctuary of love and support for my wife and I at a time when both of us needed it. From my book, “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers,” some of you will recall the story of my young son’s singing performance at a Christmas pageant, which put me in touch with years of unshed tears. That was at Rush Creek. Dick was one of those who wept with me that night.

He was a shy man, very humble, but something came over Dick when he preached. Inspired is the only way I could describe it, taking the various strands of Scripture and Christian teaching and weaving them into a message that was always achingly relevant.

But he was more than my pastor. I used to kid Dick that it was very unseemly for a man of the cloth to cheat at golf. Not that he did. I’m sure it was just an accident, all those times he stepped on my ball in the fairway. He loved golf, and loved beating me at golf, without apology.

What I remember most now, however, are all those mornings when we sat across from each other at a booth at Denny’s. As I listened to the stories of his life at Dick’s memorial service, this dawned on me: It is a pretty good bet that we were the only two customers in Denny’s discussing the Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard.

But that’s what Dick and I talked about — what religion and the great thinkers had to say about good and evil, about suffering and redemption and the seeming randomness of it all. He was a person of profound faith, without doubt.

But Dick was never content with the pat answers of dogma. In book after book after book, in conversation after conversation after conversation, he insisted on exploring the mysteries of life, insisted on asking the great questions, knowing there wouldn’t be answers for most of them in this life.

A great heart. A great soul. A great mind.

The funeral was so Dick. The great hymns and blasting organ music, which he loved. A tinkle of a bell, followed by periods of silence. And readings from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Genesis and the Book of Kings, but also Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel; German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, Detrick Bonhoeffer; the great Catholic writer, Richard Rohr.

That morning, as we said goodbye to Dick, a memory from one morning at Denny’s came back to me. I had stumbled across a quotation from Kierkegaard and shared it with him over eggs and coffee.

“There is no remembrance more blessed, and nothing more blessed to remember, than suffering overcome in solidarity with God,” Kierkegaard once wrote. “This is the mystery of suffering.”

That I should remember that on the day we said goodbye, after the great suffering of my friend, was Dick’s last gift to me.