I'm reminded of a couple acronyms that mean something to me. One comes from my friend, Bob Pegritz, and the other from my daughter, Annie.
"Fred used to end his show with 'I like you just the way you are.' It took me about 50 years to be able to say it and mean it. Fred never said that with any exceptions, he lived it. " My friend Bob spoke with that reverential tone in his voice, the one he uses when he talks about his musical heroes, and Jesus.
Fred… of course… was Fred Rogers. The gentle soul of many a child's safe place. Creator of Mr Roger's Neighborhood, wearer of comfy cardigans and tie up tennis shoes. Friend to Daniel Tiger and Mr. McFeely and so many others who graced the screens of generations of televisions. And a friend of my friend, Bob.
Bob Pegritz is a gifted whistle player, among other things. But before I knew him he was a surgical nurse. After a few years of military service during the Vietnam War, Bob attended Physicians Assistant School. He was hired, after graduation, to work as a surgical assistant at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. One day, as Bob was attending to a young patient, the boy queried, "I heard that tomorrow you’re going to open my chest with a big saw to fix the hole in my heart. Is that right?” The question was so frank that it stunned Bob, and he didn’t now how to respond. Instead of answering, he told the young boy that he had to go deal with an emergency and he would be right back. In his white lab coat and scrubs he crossed the street to the building which housed the television Broadcast Station WQED channel 13. Out of breath, he told the receptionist in the lobby "I need to talk to Fred Rogers."
She quickly opened a door and returned with a panicked gentleman, long and lean, wearing a soft wool sweater. "What's wrong?" He asked, his eyes focused on Bob.
"I’d like to talk to you about this child." Bob responded.
Fred said, “One of my kids?”
"No. One of my patients over at the Children's Hospital. He has a question and I don't now how I should answer him. "
Fred put his hands on Bob’s shoulders and said “Do you realize the picture you are presenting by standing in a lab coat and scrubs, what worries that creates for me?" Fred had worried that something had happened to one of his children. "Oh, no! I'm sure your kids are just fine." Bob apologized.
True to form, instead of turning his back on Bob, Mr. Rogers asked: "Now that you’re here, and you have my attention, what can I do for you."
"What do I say to a boy who asked me if we were going to saw open his chest?"
Fred answered, in no hurry. With his gentle words he told Bob, "You cannot lie to this child. By doing that you will have lost your trustworthiness and integrity. He needs to trust doctors. Reply yes, but you will be asleep, and you will be sore when you wake up, but in the end you will be fine. And tell him you got that from me. And one more thing, take him up to the operating room and show him where he will be going. Do it tonight, so in the morning it will be familiar. De-mistify the operating room."
At the end of the conversation Fred asked Bob if there was anything else he could do for him. Bob, daring as it may have been, asked if there was any way he could hold King Friday. So back on the set, Fred tucked noble old King Friday over his hand and held him up near the castle:
"Hello, Bob Pegritz. How are you today?"
The next day Bob helped sew up the hole in that boy's heart, and he filled that pumping heart with trust.
Bob was 23. On Fred Roger's advice he began taking young patients to the operating room the night before surgeries. The nursing staff at Children’s Hospital, to this day, takes children to the operating rooms the night before surgery.
Thus began a lifelong conversation between Bob Pegritz and Fred Rogers. There were many comings and goings across that street in Pittsburgh, PA. Bob was medical advisor for Fred Rogers special Mr. Rogers Talks to Children with Cancer. Through the years Bob and Mr. Rogers wrote letters back and forth. Bob has 39 letters from Fred Rogers, each one hand written. Fred signed each letter with a four letter acronym, followed by his name:
I asked Bob what IPOY meant.
I’m Proud of You.
Words being repeated so often that they become acronyms are endearing. Mr. Rogers' IPOY reminds me of our own ILYMTYCEI, which began years ago with our youngest daughter, Annie.
My Annie, of the tender heart, has a tendency to worry a bit. Always has. Bless her tender heart. She worried at the simplest things, her imagination fooling with her. If Dave and I were going out on a date, she would stand at the garage door and watch us as we pulled out.
"Be careful! Don't get in a wreck! I Love You More Than You Could Ever Imagine!" She stood there with her hand thrust in the air, her fingers forming the American Sign Language symbol for I Love You! Dave put the car in reverse and we both held the same hand signal as we pulled away.
Annie had, and still has, a deep need to express her love. Her fears of loss make her a bit too anxious. I have other children with the same anxieties. It makes them especially loving, but it also makes them hurt more than they should. I would wish the fears away, but then it would take away their sweetness too, so I pray for them to find peace despite fear.
Annie's continual use of the phrase "I Love You More Than You Could Ever Imagine" became a standard salutation in our house. Eventually I began signing all my letters ILYMTYCEI, followed often by a simple "m." for Mom.
I have been blessed, or cursed (Blursed) with a powerful imagination. Four of our children inherited that blurse. They are gifted artists and musicians and thinkers and writers and creators. I can imagine deep, deep love. I can feel it, too. Annie's suggestion that she could possibly love me more than I can imagine is quite…well, unlikely. And yet, I suppose it is true. Because what we think we know of love is encapsulated in our human experience. And yet we are more than human. Like the old adage, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." Love is deeper than my conscious mind can fathom, and what I know of it is strangely more than what my experience and my imagination combined can conjure. Love is ancient. I suspect it is the most familiar of all emotions to our spirits. ILYMTYCEI is likely true, for all of us.
It is very late here, as I write this night, this Good Friday. Dave and I are in Spokane helping Annie and her family move into their new house. Kate has flown in from Houston to help as well. We've been laboring all day, and we are exhausted. The household is sleeping. I can hear love breathe. In my tiredness I think of Peter, James and John falling asleep at the gate of the Garden, despite Jesus specifically asking them to keep watch. I ache for Peter, James and John. I don't think their weariness was an indicator of their love. I hope not. It was a reminder for them, and for all of us, that we are human and by nature must fight to recall our divinity. I imagine their regret.
I imagine the events unfolding, their Friday night ending with a scene on the cross; the profound sorrow, the immense physical pain, the spiritual intensity, the juxtaposition of full knowledge and ignorance, the ironies and the agonies. Inscribed on the cross, above the head of the Savior of the World, were letters meant to mock him. And yet they were the truth. A simple acronym:
INRI . "Jesus the Nazarene. King of the Jews".
He is king over all, whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not. Doesn't matter. King over all. But somehow, each of us takes Him individually for our own. On a most personal level, He is mine alone, and in my imagination I see these letters, hammered into the cross:
I Love You More Than You Could Ever Imagine.
One day, when this is all my past and all that is left of me are words, I imagine with my grandest imagining that He will give me a hug, a real warm one like I think He would, and while He holds me close He whispers in my ear, " IPOY."