Book Reviews: Hope Lost at Sea, but Found with Mister Rogers

Posted: August 29, 2010 
Filed under: Book Reviews, Deep Thoughts with Pastor Jeff, Pastor Jeff, Spiritual
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Two individuals who had the horrible pain of watching someone die before their eyes. One on an overturned boat in the ocean. The other next to the bedside of a family member. One was with strong, fit NFL players. The other with a soft-spoken, aging children’s television show host. One screamed “Why?” The other wept and was at peace. These are the stories of two books I recently read.

I always peruse the “New Book” shelves when I enter the Wylie library. The title is what attracted me toward Not Without Hope. Nick Schuyler has written the story (with coauthor Jere Longman) about the deadly fishing trip he went on with three friends on the last day of February in 2009. I remember hearing the initial news stories about the rescue of one survivor on what was likely a drug and alcohol-fueled boating accident. Nick has written this book to correct those false reports. He writes, “I knew I needed to get through this to explain to them [family of the men who died] what happened. I needed to live long enough to tell the story, even if I was found alive and died later. If I didn’t make it, people would tell their own stories, based on rumors. At least I could tell them the facts.[1]

Nick takes off with his best friend Will Bleakley, and NFL players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith on a day of fishing off the coast of Florida. Nick had met Marquis and Corey through his work as a personal trainer, and the fishing trip was a final outing before the men reported back to their teams. Nick includes that point to clarify they were drinking while fishing, but no drugs were involved. They packed up to return late in the day as a storm moved in on their position, but the boat anchor was caught. They attempted to get the anchor unstuck and ended up capsizing the boat. (The Coast Guard investigation indicated it was a novice boater move.)

Forty-three hours later the boat was discovered during a Coast Guard search, but only Nick remained. He told rescuers that all four had survived the accident, but the other three had succumbed to hypothermia and died during the storms and cold of the two days that followed.

Nick writes like an athlete. There isn’t a lot of flow to his writing, and he repeats many things over and over. However, it feels much more like a conversation with him than a book written about his experience. Plus, you get a real feel for the emotion behind his experiences.

Nick got sick on the chopping seas shortly after they left the dock. He’d spent the day vomiting anything he tried to eat or drink, so he put his sweats and coat back on. Since everyone else was in swim trunks and tshirts, Nick was the best insulated from the cold. He explains their initial frustration at their experience, and how hope faded as they spent that first night clinging to the slippery hull of the overturned boat. Marquis and Corey both died, and Nick explains the terror of watching the effects of hypothermia, hallucinations and dementia on two completely healthy guys. I did learn healthy guys with virtually no body fat are impacted by hypothermia before people with more fat insulation on them. This explains why the two football players died first. Marquis died as Nick held him and was begging him to stay alive for his wife and daughter. Meanwhile, Corey was hallucinating and struggling with Will and Nick, and even tugging at Marquis’ lifeless body they were trying to hold. Part of this portion of the story was repeated to the media by a Coast Guard spokesman after Nick’s rescue and was reported as a fight between the men. Nick wants to make the record straight and let people know it was the delirium causing Corey to be combative, and not a fight between them. In fact, he explains his struggle through the whole episode because he knew Corey to be a gentle person for whom this was totally out of character.

Tears filled by eyes as Nick describes having to watch Will, his best friend, going through the same hallucinations and physical indicators as the other men who died. After losing Will, Nick goes through the spectrum of emotions from survivor guilt to determination to live to tell the story of what happened to them. Repeatedly, he keeps thinking, “I don’t get it, God. Why me? Please, God!”

Nick realizes he’s slipping into hallucinations and struggling to stay awake 40 hours into the search, when a Coast Guard search boat does find him. He’s dehydrated, starving, with skin so pruned from saltwater that it’s simply falling off, and he can’t stand up straight. Nick writes, “I was excited to be alive, but I had that same guilty feeling. Why weren’t by best friend and Marquis and Corey on this ship with me?[2]

As sad as the accident and deaths are, the real tragedy is that Nick has no hope after the rescue. He explains he has no desire to talk to a professional to work through the situation emotionally. He’s struggling in his relationships. He still doesn’t have answers to “Why?”. In the Epilogue he describes the images that still haunt him –

I kept picturing their faces when I lost them. Marquis was gone and I held him tight to my body. He foamed at the mouth and I kept wiping the foam away. His eyes were shut, his body was deadweight, and I held him even though I knew he was gone.

I kept picturing Corey, that mean, growling face, those big eyes, the things he said. It hurts to this day, tough I know Corey in his right mind would never say anything like that.

I kept picturing the sad look that Will had, the way he bear-hugged me from behind on the boat and the tone in his voice when he said he wouldn’t make it through another night, when he said he loved me, when he said how hungry and thirsty and cold he was, that sad, crying, dying voice.”[3]

I closed the back cover of the book praying for Nick Schuyler and sad. Sad because the book, Not Without Hope, ended with no hope.

In contrast, Texas newspaper writer Tim Madigan’s book, I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers, included loss and sadness, but I ended it with hope. It reflects Madigan’s transformation from a self-centered man about to see his life implode to a man at peace with the world around him who discovers a new part of himself through the love and acceptance of Fred Rogers.

Fred Rogers is the Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood PBS kid’s television show. Mr. Rogers is the guy who generations of us grew up watching, and who received ridicule for his mild-mannered style and TV persona. Madigan interviews Fred Rogers for a future article. He finds Rogers to be sincere, disarming, and completely like his TV persona. Fred Rogers is such an intriguing individual that Madigan even accepts his offer to attend church with his interview subject when invited.

Madigan continues his correspondence with Mr. Rogers, enjoying the acceptance and love that comes through their light interaction. But, as Madigan’s life and marriage begin to fall apart he writes to report what a failure his life has become. He let’s Fred know that this disgraceful life is one that Mr. Rogers shouldn’t associate with, and he likely wouldn’t want to continue a friendship such as this with someone with which he couldn’t be proud. In a letter dated July 1, 1996, Fred Rogers writes back –

Dear Tim,

The answer to your question is “YES”

a resounding YES…

I will be proud of you. I am proud of you. I have been proud of you since first we met. I’m deeply touched that you would offer so much of yourself to me, and look forward to knowing all that you would care to share in the future. Nothing you could tell me could change my YES for you. Please remember that.

You are the only person who has come for an interview who came to church with me. I wonder if you realize how special you really are!? Your place in this life is unique – absolutely unique. I feel blessed to be one of your friends. Only God can arrange such mutually trusting relationships – for sure! For sure!!

YES, Time, YES.

Love, Fred[4]

From that point, until he died seven years later, Fred closed every letter and email to Tim with I.P.O.Y (I’m Proud of You). I was so touched by this book, but I think that’s because Madigan’s story revealed Fred Rogers in a way that made me glad to have been his neighbor, even if only through TV. You get a feel of why Mr. Rogers could impact such a jaded reporter through Madigan’s own reflection on this issue –

I couldn’t help but wonder: Why would this celebrity, however kindly he might be, choose to invest in a relationship with a person like me? Yet gradually, in the weeks and months after we met in Pittsburgh, my remaining skepticism dissolved and I came to believe that he was wholly genuine when he described his pleasure in our new relationship. (‘Yes, please do keep in touch,’ he wrote two months after we met. ‘I’m delighted that you would want to.’) I had worried that he would consider me a nuisance because I wrote to him so often, every few weeks at least, also sending along recent newspaper stories of mine that I thought might interest him (or that he might be impressed by). But each time I did, a thoughtful and heartfelt reply showed up in my mailbox within days, as if Fred had nothing better to do than promptly answer my mail.[5]

Madigan’s friendship with this man who carried a camera so he could take pictures of the people he talked to every day just so he could show his wife, Joanne, the new friends he’d made each day, began to impact him in ways he wouldn’t have expected. He felt accepted for who he was. He was encouraged toward the best he could be by someone who really believed he could be that good. He was loved unconditionally by a man who had no reason to care about him. Fred Rogers is there to support Madigan and his family as Madigan’s brother dies from cancer. All this love and support enables Madigan to turn his life around and develop a family, marriage, friendships, and career that a healthy and a joy.

It makes you wonder if this is real or if Madigan was fooled by a good actor. Was the author just so needy that any kind person would have been seen as a savior? It appears Fred Rogers was so genuine that other “jaded” journalists were impressed by his sincerity. Here’s an excerpt from an article on Mr. Rogers by Tom Junod originally published in Esquire magazine. Here, Junod is telling the story of Mr. Rogers’ visit to a teenage boy severely afflicted with cerebral palsy and terrible anger.

At first, the boy was made nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him. Mister Rogers didn’t leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, ‘I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?’ On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said: ‘I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?’ And now the boy didn’t know how to respond. He was thunderstruck…because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn’t know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he’d try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers, and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean that God likes him, too.


“As for Mister Rogers himself…he doesn’t look at the story the same way the boy did or I did. In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being smart – for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself – and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me first with puzzlement and then with surprise. ‘Oh heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who had gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”[6]


So Fred Rogers was real, kind, sincere, and loving. Just reading the stories about him in Madigan’s book were inspiring to me. Convinced me Mr. Rogers would have been my friend if we’d have ever met. Also convinced me I could be a person who loves other people freely. I don’t have to let the world turn me cynical and jaded. I can have hope and find the best in people, and the experiences around me. Rogers’ attitude is summed up in this quote from one of his letters to Madigan –

We pray and continue to do our work, counting on God’s grace to give each of us enough light to take the next steps of the journey.[7]

Left me wishing Nick Schuyler would have met Fred Rogers. I think Mr. Rogers would have helped Nick find the hope he’s been looking for.

The Unexpected Life and All,


I found Not Without Hope by Nick Schuyler at the Wylie Public Library.

I found Tim Madigan’s I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers at the Plano Public Library (Harrington Library branch on 18th Street).

Both books are available for online purchase at these links:

Not Without Hope

I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers

*Please be sure to share your thoughts back with me if you have the opportunity to read either of these books.

[1] Schuyler, Nick, and Jere Longman. Not Without Hope. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010. (p.141)

[2] Ibid. (p.193)

[3] Ibid. (p.221-222)

[4] Madigan, Tim. I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers. New York, Gotham Books, 2006. (p.44-45)

[5] Ibid. (p.32)

[6] Ibid. (p.90-91)

[7] Ibid. (p.63)

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