At the luncheon, Fred stood at the lectern between Bush and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He leaned in to the microphone.
He looked tiny.
“I know of a little girl who was drawing with crayons in school,” he said.
He kept looking tinier.
“The teachers asked her about her drawing,” he said. “And the little girl said, ‘Oh, I am making a picture of God.’ The teacher said, ‘But no one knows what God looks like.’ The little girl smiled and answered, ‘They will now.’ ”
With that he asked everyone to think of their own images of God, and he began praying. He talked about listening to the cries of despair in America and about turning those cries into rays of hope.
A hush fell over the room, and he wasn’t tiny anymore. He stepped away from the lectern and darted. He was always a darter, but this was extreme. “O.K., now where the hell is Fred?” Isler asked me. We darted. We combed the building and climbed stairs. The Secret Service guys had lost sight of him, too. “We’ve got to get out of here,” Newell said.
We found him outside, next to an oak tree, motionless and relaxed. “Fred!” Isler said, exasperated. Fred said he wanted to go back to the office.
“I wasn’t about to participate in any fund-raising or anything else,” he told me later. “But at the same time I don’t want to be an accuser. Other people may be accusers if they want to; that may be their job. I really want to be an advocate for whatever I find is healthy or good. I think people don’t change very much when all they have is a finger pointed at them. I think the only way people change is in relation to somebody who loves them.”
What if that’s true? What if Fred Rogers was right about how people change?