Newborn babies dressed in red cardigan sweaters and sneakers. The news photograph on my screen makes me smile big. And I can tell you this; whatever is weighing me down can wait. This keeps my hope alive.
Photos can be cathartic. And transformative. They can illuminate the human condition (both our best and our worst moments).
What gives images power? There is an invitation attached: “You are invited to care.” And they show us what kind of people we want to be and become.
Any time a new baby enters the world it’s “a good day in the neighborhood,” but on November 13th, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh took things a good bit further in honor of World Kindness Day. The local radio station WQED declared the day “Cardigan Day,” to honor Fred Rogers, one of their own. (“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was filmed at the WQED studios and the show celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.)
On Wednesday, Joanne Rogers (Fred’s wife, age 91) visited the newborns in red cardigans. One reader posted, “The picture of Mrs. Rogers in the doorway looking at all those babies with her hands clasped. Well, I lost it. This old woman in a little town in Canada felt her heart grow.”
It made my heart grow too. To be rejuvenated by the ripples from people and places where joy and kindness and empathy and small gestures of grace spill. There is power here, to remind us that our heart still absorbs goodness. Necessary in a world that feels more and more cynical.
“Be soft,” Kurt Vonnegut invites us. “Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”
My Atlantic magazine arrived Friday. In it, Tom Junod writes about the new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (out November 22). The movie, stars Tom Hanks and is based on the relationship between Rogers and Junod which began in 1998 when Junod wrote an article for Esquire, “Can you say, Hero?”
Wondering how Fred was genuinely available and present to the people around him, Jundo recounts calling Fred to tell him the story about five people stopping their cars to help an ancient and enormous snapping turtle across a highway exit ramp near Atlanta. Mr. Rogers said that would make a good story. Tom asked him why. Fred Rogers responds, “Because whenever people come together to help either another person or another creature, something has happened, and everyone wants to know about it – because we all want to know that there’s a graciousness at the heart of creation.”
I love that phrase – graciousness at the heart of creation, I know what he means. The beauty of humanity, of doing good when we can, of loving our neighbors, of treating one another openhearted, with dignity and respect, welcoming and reconciling.
Here’s the deal: We easily forget that this graciousness is alive and well in each of us; for as Rogers so frequently pointed out, everybody was a child once.
I wonder why we forget. Why we give way to our lesser selves; to small-mindedness and intolerance. Whenever our words demean, humiliate or shame, we cut off the oxygen of hope.
As a rule, I want you to know that I don’t cry when I read The Atlantic. But yesterday, I did. Gratefully.
I get to the part where Junod talks about watching the movie. “I had counted on the plot’s many departures from my life to insulate me from the emotional effect of seeing some version of myself up there, but in the screening room I had no such protection, because the director, Marielle Heller, had been so faithful to the essence of the story A long time ago, a man had seen something in me I hadn’t seen in myself, and now I was watching him see something in me and couldn’t help but ask all over again” Who was he? Who was I? And what did he see? “You love people like me,” Mathew Rhys (who plays Junod) tells Tom Hanks. And when Hanks asks, “What are people like you?” Rhys answers, “Broken people.” And that broke me, though I had never uttered those words to Fred in my life. He saw something in me, yes.”
In being seen, we invite self-compassion. In that soil, mercy, hope, redemption and healing blossom. When the world feels broken, I take heart in Gandhi’s wisdom, “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.” Transformation is real with the re-discovery of who I am. Transformation because that child in me is seen. I want to affirm this gift that everyone was a child once.
So, Let’s circle back to the babies with cardigans, or the folks helping the turtle; the graciousness at the heart of creation. It spills.
“Human history is a history not only of cruelty,” Howard Zinn reminds us, “but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Here in the garden, most of the leaves are down. Looking out the window, a shower of yellow and red whirlybirds. I love this time of year. When the garden, in its weary and disheveled look, evokes beauty, letting go of hurry and urgency and performance and the need for public opinion. An antidote to our compulsions to tidiness and perfection. And cynicism. To find exquisite beauty in whatever is soft and spilling graciousness.
Quote for your week…
Rogers defined my new job and my real job when he said once that the real work we have as human beings was “to make goodness attractive in the so-called next millennium.” Tom Junod
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Sabbath Moment is a treasure each week. Thank you. Florida
–Thanks for your inspiring insights. We look forward to every Monday’s Sabbath Moment. Maureen and Everett
–Love your new book!!!! I read a couple of pages every morning then meditate on your message. It is a great book that not only makes me smile but makes me think and meditate on what is important in my life. Thank you, Kathleen
–Wow Terry. I just finished This Is the Life and once again you have shared wisdom and truth in your wonderful style. I am so very grateful. I have read Pause each year for a long time and now This is the Life is added to the “read it every year” list. In this time of thanksgiving, thank you for spilling your light. Blessings, Fran
–Thank you for your own vulnerability and for this post. Your being where you are met me where I’m at. Cindy
–Terry: This week’s Sabbath Moment was especially meaningful to me. Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading it every week. Rosemary
–Good morning! God works in interesting ways. You posed the EXACT question I was asking myself this morning. I was in a dark place this morning wondering I will I do now and what is my purpose after some life changing events. So, THANK YOU! You have no idea how this touched me. April
–Dear Terry, you speak about the heart today, 11/11/19, which Richard Rohr also speaks of today. I’m forwarding his Daily Meditation to you, even though I think you’ve probably already read it, because you both speak to my heart. Thank you for your gratitude to veterans today. My dear husband is a Korean War veteran. Peace and God’s blessings to you. Gloria
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The significance—and ultimately the quality—of the work we do
is determined by our understanding of the story in which
we are taking part. Wendell Berry
It can happen like that:
meeting at the market,
buying tires amid the smell
of rubber, the grating sound
of jack hammers and drills,
anywhere we share stories,
and grace flows between us.
The tire center waiting room
becomes a healing place
as one speaks of her husband’s
heart valve replacement, bedsores
from complications. A man
speaks of multiple surgeries,
notes his false appearance
as strong and healthy.
I share my sister’s death
from breast cancer, her
youngest only seven.
A woman rises, gives
her name, Mrs. Henry,
then takes my hand.
Suddenly an ordinary day
becomes holy ground.
Blessing of your work
May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.