Tim Madigan: Essential Invisible

When Christofer and I began imagining our PBS Documentary, Mister Rogers & Me, remembrances of Fred Rogers were not yet a cottage industry. 

It was surprising, then, in the earliest days of my research, to discover Tim Madigan’s just-published memoir, “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship With Fred Rogers.” 

More surprising still, Tim and my stories shared much in common. 

We both met Fred unexpectedly, and were quickly disarmed by his authenticity and presence. In both cases, he quickly ferreted out our respective sadnesses, and somehow empowered, inspired and otherwise catalyzed us to make sense of them.

It was more surprising still to learn that Tim would be reading from his new book just a few hundred steps from Christofer’s New York City apartment. We thought it was a terrific coincidence.

And so, one hot August night in 2006, we met Tim. And we’ve been friends ever since.

Tim is Midwestern. He spent thirty years as a highly-decorated reporter and columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, before turning towards nonfiction.

I’ve long said that Tim is the emotional heart of Mister Rogers & Me; he wears his on his sleeve. His authenticity is legit. His sadness is palpable. And in being vulnerable, Tim gives all of us permission to do the same. It is a role he has played in my life ever since, as we’ve shared fifteen years of triumph and tribulation.

This week, more than two decades after its original publication, Tim’s first book, The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, entered the New York Times Best Seller List at number four. Which seemed like a pretty good time to slow down, get present and go deep on who loved Tim into being, and how, in Mister Rogers’ orbit, coincidences are regular occurrences — and often much, much more.

It was Tim who first introduced us to the quote that hung in Fred’s WQED office for nearly forty years: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

Throughout the pandemic, as we all sought to feel that “essential invisible,” Tim began shooting and sharing quiet, contemplative videos from the edge of Fort Worth’s Trinity River: sunlight dancing on a rapid, wind rustling a thicket of cat tail, a blue heron standing sentry.

Through this simple, daily ritual, Tim modeled his commitment to seeking and healing. He showed us that the essential invisible is always available. He reminds us of the imperative to be present and notice, and to slow down and sit with our experiences. 

In his columns, books and deeds, and in our fifteen years of ongoing conversation, Tim reminds us that it’s not easy, but it is what matters.

“Discovering the truth about ourselves,” Mister Rogers once said. “is a lifetime’s work. “But,” he concludes, “it’s well worth the effort.”

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