In 1984, I took a year off from serving as pastor in Red Bluff to spend a year in further studies on the East Coast. Lena, Anna and I and travelled to New Haven, Connecticut, where I would be in school studying for a specialized Master’s degree. Part of my study was research and writing a thesis—and part of it was class work.
One of the classes I took was called “Children and Youth in Society and Church.” As part of that class I wrote a paper called “On Behalf of Mr. Rogers.” It begins, “Why do we laugh at this man with his zip-up cardigan sweaters and pleasant demeanor?” In this year of Fred Rogers movies and tributes, I like to think I was ahead of the curve.
At that time, for some reason I was inspired to send this paper off to Mr. Rogers and his Neighborhood. Though I didn’t really anticipate much response, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a personal letter a few months later from Fred Rogers in response to my writing. It remains one of my most treasured possessions. Of course, receiving the letter was a gift in itself, but it is Rogers’ words that I value most. Listen to a bit of what he says:
Your gift really did brighten my day and the days of many of our staff…It was fascinating for me to see our Neighborhood through your penetrating eyes…I thought about how fortunate your daughter and all the young people your life touches, are. I feel as if we are working together to help children and families grow in healthy directions.
Now, I am not so certain about my “penetrating eyes,” but reading Rogers’ words bring me a deep warm feeling, and in certain times can almost bring me to the brink of tears. I would not have thought less of Mr. Rogers if he had simply had sent me a postcard stamped with his signature. But he gave me his voice, his affirmation, his wisdom. What a kindness that was to me!
To be sure, I have received many kind notes over the years. Many were more intimate than Rogers’ words and grew out of much deeper personal connection. I treasure these notes every bit as much as I do Fred Rogers’ letter. As I have been cleaning files lately (this is what old people do) I can’t seem to let go of these notes. They are great gifts and signposts in my life. They exude that amazing quality of kindness, and we can never have enough of that.
Spiritual Practice: Write a Postcard
It seems like ever since people have traveled, they have wanted to share a token of where they have been. In the modern era, sending a postcard has been a way of both savoring and sharing an experience. Though Instagram now seems to be making an effort to take the place of this practice, I still recommend buying a few cards, finding a pen, attaching a stamp, and writing a note to send to a loved one by snail mail.
This practice has so many different elements. What image do you want the card to bear? What will it say about what you are experiencing? To whom do you send a card? What connections and relationships are you seeking to maintain? In that small writing space, what do you say? Do you offer words of love? Do you gloat? Do you offer some cryptic (but deep) insight? Do you just say “wish you were here?” See, it is not as easy as you think!
My wife Lena is one of the best practitioners of this art. She finds just the right postcard (it takes a while) and always seems to find kind, loving, and interesting thoughts to offer. I have no doubt that those who receive a card from her are deeply touched. And really, who of us doesn’t like to be remembered – from anywhere in the world?
Maybe this time of staying at home and reducing activity is a perfect time to see if you have a few old postcards lying around. It might be a fun way for you and others to take a virtual trip. It might also be a way to connect with those who are alone and lonely in this time.