The dismantling proceeds apace.
First the eyes lose their luster.
Then “what?” becomes your most
spoken word, leaving “the” in the dust.
Smell? Gone these many years.
Vestiges of taste remain. Thank God
for touch, which wins hands down
as the last and most precious sense of all.
At least once a year, I re-read Tom Junod’s article on Mr. Rogers in the November 1998 issue of Esquire magazine. The theme of the issue was new American heroes, and Mr. Rogers, wearing a red cardigan, was featured on the cover.
With each year that passes, the truth of the article, its simplicity and profundity, and importantly, the excellence of the writing that does justice to the man, becomes clearer and clearer. Fred Rogers was so concerned about children and what they were watching as pie-in-the-face “children’s programming” on television, that he spent the rest of his life making TV programs that would teach children about themselves, their families and their communities; that would teach them they were lovable and capable of loving.
He accomplished this through interviews with people from the neighborhood; in visits with various professionals at their work sites; through music––he himself was an accomplished musician and composer; through puppetry; and all of this with a small cast of regulars who acted out make-believe from scripts written by Mr. Rogers.
Tom Junod had the courage as a writer to not distance himself from his subject. He was drawn in by the accessibility and sincerity of this American hero, this American saint. In these challenging times, when true heroes are scarce, here is a model that deserves emulation and celebration. Who––man or woman––has the existential courage to embrace it? A measure of humility would help with that.
You can read the entire article at
I sat across the table from you
leaking tears and talking, talking
trying to put my finger on why I wept
and felt embarrassed in a class where we
discussed the abuse of women and girls.
The tears began as I tried to articulate the need
for awareness of all those who at that moment
(when we were discussing their situations
in a much removed room at divinity school)
were alone in their abuse, with no relief in sight.
Trying to discern the reason for tears
while explaining to you the sense of distance
I felt between me and my body,
me and my skin, even while the invitation
to fill that space hung in the air.
What else would God do but weep? you said.
I rode your words bareback into that space
where compassion closed the gap. I felt
how the heart of God is the part of how
we are one with ourselves and with each other.
Mommy, come and look at this,
my son called from the back door stoop.
I can’t. I’m busy. What have you got?
His answer lost in the distance between us
I called out louder, What have you got?
A bee. He’s walking on my cheek. See?
Blinded by dishes piled up to the brink
of my mind mired down in mashed potato
I called from the sink, Probably a fly,
and chose not to walk to the stoop
where he sat waiting. In that moment
of meanness, the bee stung; starving
children bit the dust, the nails in our house
began to rust, and Jack Benny died.
And my son cried out, pouring tears,
healing rain, onto the infinite desert of sin.
My son and I toast marshmallows
over the flames of old love letters
into the ashes
of picnics past in green fields
streamed through with sepia-toned
water, clear in the way of old photos.
In the dreams she doesn’t know
the hugeness of what is about to strike her down.
Unsure myself of the timing of it
and whether or not I should tell her now
I don’t. Ever. I only hoard
the feeling of tenderness toward her to myself.
The tentative nature of our swapped roles––
I with the terrible knowledge, she not knowing
I solicitous, walking her
towards the edge, the brink of dream
where, Dig! I order myself.
Make a way for her to the other kingdom.
I was afraid at first of the young hart
coming at me with his head down
in what looked like an attitude of attack.
The woods behind him, the field behind me
I could have turned and run
but I stood my ground.
He pawed his ground. I ran to the side
and he, seeing my move, came after me
and I, seeing his, now ran, noticing
for the first time that it was night.
While a million stars distracted me
he butted me gently with his small
horns, and I sensed us lifting off the ground.
We were flying. I let fall my drawn-up legs
loosened my grip on his soft neck
and held it loosely in a friendly way
and like him, looking straight ahead
took in the night, loved the night,
was one with the night, and seeing
somehow those below moving
in the field we flew above. I wanted
to tell my mother and searched the faces
for sight of hers, and there she was
looking up and smiling.