From the heart of suffering, a grace note from Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers and I had known each other for three years by that day in the fall of 1998 when I learned that my brother Steve had been diagnosed with lung cancer. My first call was to my wife, my second to the children’s television icon at his home in Pittsburgh. It was his wife, Joanne, who answered that day, and with whom I shed my first tears.

For the next two years, Fred and Joanne, particularly Fred, joined Steve and the rest of us on Steve’s heroic journey with his disease. Before the cancer Steve had been a lost, struggling man. Afterwards he became a person of spiritual greatness himself, a teacher of love, courage and perspective. He often said, right up until the last, that the cancer was the best thing that ever happened to him.

“Steve is teaching us all now,” Fred would say.

Steve was surrounded by his family at his home in Davenport, Iowa, when he died on a sunny morning in August 2000. He was forty-one years old. I called Fred with the news a few hours later.

“I didn’t know it was coming so soon,” he said.

That night I received this email at Steve’s house. After the Charleston massacre, there has been much recent talk of grace in the heart of terrible suffering. I submit the following as another example.

Dear Tim,

After a long day at work I came home and told Joanne about Steve. We talked about you all during dinner. Joanne sends her love to you, too. As usual I went for my after-dinner walk in the park near our apartment. It was near sunset. . . and a gorgeous one it was. On my way back there was the most beautiful cloud formation illuminated by the last bit of setting sun.

Tim, there are no adequate words for such beauty. At any rate all I could think of saying was “Thank You,” so I did, and I prayed for you and your wonderful family gathered in such common purpose there in Iowa. It wasn’t long before something said to me, “Look up.” Well, I did and there in a completely clear patch of sky was the brightest new moon I had ever seen. It looked a special apostrophe in the sky, and I thought, “Yep, it’s Steve’s for sure.”

Just wanted you to know that you’re all in our hearts. . . more than ever.

IPOY, as always. Fred