Star Struck — Or Simply Grateful?

Believe me when I say that I am typically not one to follow the lives of famous people or to buy magazines about Hollywood stars. I do, however, take notice of and an interest in people who exemplify the best in us, who quietly model admirable qualities, who are honorable, and/or who seek to inspire us to be better and more compassionate people than we often are.

If you have read my book, Please Write, you know that on rare occasions, I have been known to write handwritten letters of appreciation to people who I feel are true treasures in this world. Deciding who to write to is based on my own values and criteria, of course. I have only written to those who have deeply touched or impressed me in some way. All have dedicated their lives to making this world a more joyful, beautiful, loving, caring place. Each have used their unique talents to lift us up, give us joy or a sense of hope.

There have only been three people to whom I have written such letters. Not because there were not many others who have impressed me, but because, I can procrastinate like anyone else and there must be an alignment between inspiration, time, materials at hand and having possession of a stamp. Apparently, this has been a rare occurrence over many decades of life.

Here are the three people that I have written to. It is an odd trio to be sure, but their common qualities are passion for their craft and a “joie de vivre” you don’t see in most people. And they were able to sustain these qualities over a lifetime. My hat is off to all of them. I feel grateful for their generosity in reading my letters, but also for the fact that all of them responded to my letter in one way or another. Such generosity on their parts, and I thank them.  

Fred Rogers – As I wrote in my book, I had often made fun of Fred Rogers as a teenager and young adult. He seemed ultra corny and sugary sweet, and I was a cynical teenager to whom he appeared to be some kind of joke. But I would later come to my senses and see his unique value in the world. It was not until I had children of my own that his magic became evident to me. Watching his shows with my kids, I began to see the important values and messages he was trying to impart in a world where too often, we belittle gentleness, kindness, and joyful wonder. Mr. Rogers embodied many fine qualities I admired, and I was so grateful he could be a role model for children as an antidote to the increasingly harsh, unkind, and crude things they were often exposed to.

One day, I decided uncharacteristically, to write my first letter to a famous person. I told Mr. Rogers how grateful I was for the life work he had chosen to do, for being the wonderful role model he was, and for bringing so much joy into the homes of children, including my own. I popped the note into the mail and forgot about it.

A month or two later, I was thrilled to receive an envelope from Fred Rogers in my mailbox. Inside were two letters — a wonderful, signed letter for me, and another for my daughter. He also included several postcards of the puppet characters from his show for my daughter. He thanked me for valuing the work they were doing on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and affirmed my role as a mother.

When I read his letter, I knew that I had made the right decision to write to him. There was a clear sense of gratitude in his words back to me. Even Mr. Rogers needed to have his life work affirmed and appreciated by others once in a while, though I am certain he received thousands of letters like mine. Childrens’ television is just not the same without him and, I believe, there will never be anyone quite like him ever again.  That is quite an amazing legacy to leave behind.

Dick Van Dyke – I grew up in the 1960’s and spent my share of time in front of a black and white television set watching sitcoms and movies. My father did not get home from work until 7:30 each night, so to pass the time before dinner, my siblings and I watched the reruns of the Dick Van Dyke Show repeatedly over a period of years. I have probably seen each episode 20 times and they always made me laugh, even though I knew the punchlines and plot. And the amazing part is that all these years later, when I occasionally see an episode on TV, I laugh once more.

And then there was Mary Poppins. What child of the 60’s (and of the pressent) didn’t love Bert and Mary? After seeing the movie, my brother and I would play the movie’s musical score repeatedly, happily singing along every time. When I had children, I couldn’t wait to introduce them to this film and later to the Dick Van Dyke shows. I am happy to report that they loved them just as I had.

One day, I got to thinking about what a gift to the world Dick Van Dyke is and how much joy and laughter he has given us. During world tragedies, wars, economic troubles and violence, the ones that make us laugh are treasures without measure. His great comedic gifts are so appreciated by me that I decided to write him a note of thanks. In it, I told him how much I loved his show and movies, that despite the decades that had gone by, they were still magic in my mind and deeply appreciated. Several months went by and in my mailbox one day I found a signed photo of Mr. Van Dyke with a nice inscription/signature. I was thrilled to get it and still have it to this day.

Mr. Van Dyke is now 97 years young and still living life to its fullest. What a national treasure he continues to be.

Sir David Attenborough – The natural world is so precious and magnificent, and it is a source of solace and inspiration for me every day of my life. And I never even have to lift a finger to experience this glory right there in front of me.

I was fortunate enough to have parents that deeply loved the natural world and taught me to see and appreciate everything around me. Not all of us had teachers like this. But even if you did not, there were/are a few amazing and talented individuals who were able and willing to step into that role for you.  One of them is Sir David Attenborough. For decades, he has produced countless nature programs for the BBC in the United Kingdom, also broadcast here in the U.S on PBS. He has been traversing the globe for decades trying to bring the great diversity and magnificence of nature into our living rooms. He is a writer, presenter, and narrator, and so much more, winning accolades and awards from every quarter. He is a national treasure in Britain and is deeply appreciated around the world.

Sir David’s ceaseless work for nature has earned him the respect of people of all ages. At 97 years young, he is still active, trying to make a difference for this planet. I have admiration for him beyond words, though I did try to put some on them on paper when I decided recently to send him a letter of gratitude for his life of service. I selected a colorful note card and began writing. I told him how much his lifetime of service and his beautiful TV programs have meant to me. I told him that he had indeed made a significant contribution to the world’s understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Imagine my surprise this morning when the mail arrived and among the junk mail and flyers there was a letter from the United Kingdom. At first, I couldn’t think who from England would be writing to me. Then I saw his lovely linen stationery with his name embossed on the bottom, and realized who it had come from. His words of gratitude were simple and gracious. For someone of his stature, there was no sense of ego or importance there. Just kind words that he did not have to write.

I encourage everyone who admires or values someone, whether it be their hair stylist, teacher, or a famous person, to please take a risk and write that person (s) a letter(s) of appreciation. You and they will be the better for it –and who knows what might find its way to your mailbox in return. It is all part of the wonder of reciprocal giving that makes life meaningful, interesting, and rewarding.