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on March 10, 2004
In November of 1998, I was sitting in a computer lab/library at an airbase in Saudi Arabia when an unusual magazine cover caught my eye. It was an issue of ESQUIRE, and taking up almost the whole cover was none other than Mister Fred Rogers, grinning from ear to ear. I read Tom Junod's marvelous article about this heroic man (you'll have to find a copy of the article to learn why I use the word "heroic") over and over and over, many times out loud.
So my fascination with Mister Rogers was rekindled for the first time in more than 15 years. But as a child I was mostly fascinated with a magical trolley which could transport you into an enchanted land called Make-Believe. Mr. Junod gave me a much deeper - and therefore, much more fascinating - glimpse at what this man is like.
He was a man who loved children and the adults who once were children as much as he loved himself. He hated television. He believed (or so his actions seem to convey) that his outflow of compassion was as much a necessity for his survival as his intake of oxygen. And his favorite word was grace. In fact, if you met him in person and received his autograph, he would write the word "grace" underneath it - in Greek.
Unmerited favor received from God.
Believing his standards to be no higher than that of God's, Mister Rogers strove to treat others with as much grace as he had received.
The reason I state all of this is because it will all be proven when you read DEAR MISTER ROGERS. This book, containing letters both to and from Mister Rogers, shows that he can be funny, sad, nurturing, and firm. But he was always compassionate. Never in this book is he ever insincere. On more than a few occasions, he proves he does not lack the humility to admit some of the mistakes he has made in life.
Some of the letter exchanges are very cute. None are more so than the one about the father whose little boy insisted that Mister Rogers doesn't "poop"; to which Mister Rogers replies, "I am a real person. And, one thing for certain is that all real people 'poop.'" (Page 7)
The fact that Mister Rogers had a hand in compiling and editing all of these letters, shows his sense of humor. For instance, in the final chapter, 17-year-old Tyler writes
Dear Mister Rogers,
In your younger years did you get a lot of chicks because you were Mister Rogers?
(Page 185)
Some of the letters will provoke different emotions, like the ones from Alexandria, who at the tender age of four, was suffering from leukemia; and another letter about one child who listened to (rather than watched) the program because she was blind. (Interesting side-note I learned from Mr. Junod's article: Mr. Rogers was color-blind.)
Unfortunately, it appears that this book is going out of print. But this book is one of those rare gems that are worth looking hard for. I guarantee that this book will bring you pleasure every time you read it.
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