TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — Suffering And Optimism

The latest episode in my travels with Mister Rogers came recently in Fort Worth, Texas, when I told the story of our friendship to a district meeting of the Optimist’s Club.

Before my talk, I read the international organization’s principles, among them —to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet. To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true. To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best. To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

How could I reconcile those noble ideals with the talk I was about to give, which was about Fred’s human greatness, yes, but also about human suffering, mostly my own? It was easy, as it turned out, and beautiful.

I spoke of how Fred understood, perhaps better than anyone, the universality of suffering, the sadness, shame, fear, anger, common to us all, and how desperately we try to conceal those things from one another. No need, he would say. “Anything mentionable is manageable. What is most personal is most universal.” We all suffer. It’s part of who we are. But the good news is there is no need to pretend we don’t, and no need to suffer alone.

At the end of the talk, I said that I thought Optimist principles and the suffering of humankind were not contradictory at all. For I believe that the only path to joy is through the honest embrace of pain, and the sharing of it with those we trust. That has certainly been true in my life. I would have scoffed at the Optimist principles 20 years ago. I don’t now.

After my talk, a man came up and shared a passage about honest suffering from Fred’s friend, the Catholic writer Henri Nouwen. The man told me about the recent loss of his 6-month-old grandson and his commitment to stand with the terrible pain.  A woman approached a few minutes later and said her young son, a clerk at a fast-food place, had been shot dead two months ago in a robbery. Another woman told me about her struggles with manic depression.

I never would have known how they suffered, just to look at them. But as we spoke they all shed beautiful tears, standing there in the back of that meeting room. They were sacred moments I spent with those brave, hurting people, full of grace, true humanity, healing and yes …


One thought on “TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — Suffering And Optimism”

  • thewordchipper September 5, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Excellent advice from Mr. Rogers and a well done piece. Thanks!


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