Mr. Rogers stepped out of a Manhattan subway train onto the platform. A group of people recognized him, including a young mother with her 6-year-old son. The boy brandished a Star Wars light saber, and was intent on whacking everything–and everyone–in his path. This included Mr. Rogers.
The mother stood mortified, “Honey, please don’t hit Mr. Rogers! I think it’s illegal. And it’s not polite.”
Oblivious, Fred Rogers drops to his knees, next to the boy, now eye-to-eye. He whispered to the boy. The boy whispered back and put away his light saber. Goodbyes were exchanged.
One hour later, the people traveling with Mr. Rogers had enough suspense. “You have got to tell us what you said to the boy!” Mr. Rogers smiled, “I told him, we are a lot alike. I have a sword too. Not as nice as yours. Mine is wood. I keep it inside me, for all the times I don’t feel strong. When I think I need to impress people, I take my sword out, and I believe that when people see the sword they will think I’m strong. But when I feel strong inside, I know I don’t need my sword, and I put it away. Looking in your eyes right now, I know you are a loved little boy, and I see you are very strong on the inside.”
The little boy said, “I guess I don’t need my sword today.”
When I give talks, this is my favorite story to tell.
Because I can relate. I know what it is like to not feel strong on the inside. I know what it is like to take out my sword, and do my best to impress everyone around me. Or appear stronger than I feel.
I also know that life’s pace exacerbates the conundrum. As if we assume that our identity is predicated on the sum of consumption and distraction (more) plus velocity (hurry). And our mantra becomes, “This is not enough.” (Meaning this relationship or job or circumstance or new toy or prayer or faith or conversation or moment, or whatever.) And as a result, I am (we are) not present.
And given my need to impress–or consume or use or add or rush–I end up whacking everything around me. This is when my life becomes “garbled.”
This has been an unnerving week for all of us. A week where we are all hurting. And grieving. Scenes of violence we cannot understand or comprehend. And a knee-jerk toward unhelpful and inflammatory rhetoric on both sides. As if we need to whack somebody…
In all of that, there are swords…
And here’s how it affects me…
I am afraid to live with my heart unclenched and expanded.
And I can too easily walk as a resentment in search of a cause.
And that’s why I needed Mr. Rogers today… Terry, put away your sword.
Because here’s the deal: it doesn’t matter what we expect from life, but what life expects from us. As a result, we can choose to unleash the heart, in order to be our better selves.
And no one can take that away. They can demean us, belittle us, criticize us and silence us. But no one can take that away.
I also needed Mr. Roger’s reminder that there is a word spoken about me. It tells me that I am strong on the inside. And not because of anything I have done or failed to do.
Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does anything weird,
But the God who knows only 4 words.
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me, come dance.”
This is not just about self-esteem, as if there’s some club to join with a secret instruction manual. As if there is something else we need to add to our life to make it successful, or meaningful, or palatable. It’s much more fundamental: Am I willing to be loved for being this me?
If I answer yes, then I guess I don’t need my sword today. And I can unleash my heart and hear the good news about my better self.
If the answer is yes…
We can create bridges for reconciliation and second chances and peace making.
We can create roads for mercy and generosity and justice.
We can create floors for dancing and music and celebration.
We create bandages for wounds and fractured spirits and broken hearts.
We create sanctuaries for safety and prayer and hope.
I’m on the patio tonight. At the bird-feeders a dozen or so vying for good seats. I walk the garden. It grounds me. It is not long before dusk. In bloom, fire-red crocosmia always makes me smile. The air is cool, perfect to raise a glass, savor the moment. I sit on the patio until past dark. I wait for the stars. I put down my sword.
Quotes for your week..
God calls you to be. Frederick Buechner
If you’re wearing a disguise for too long, it will be difficult for the mirror to recognize you. At the end of the day I hope you become the person they didn’t expect you to be. Be proud to wear you. Dodinsky
At any given moment, we have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that. Charlotte to Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What had been done has been done;
What has not been done has not been done; let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us, and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray.
New Zealand Prayer Book