Good reminders for troubled times - or any time

I first discovered Charles Mackesy in November 2020 when CBS Sunday Morning was doing a piece on him and his book, "The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse." We were enjoying our annual Thanksgiving weekend getaway in Saugatuck, so I had time to sit down with my coffee and enjoy the show.

"In a quaint barn in the English countryside, there's a man, with a dog, documenting the human condition in its simplest form, through sketches about kindness and empathy, as we all navigate this new world," correspondent Seth Doane said as he opened the segment.

Then Mackesy spoke.

"I sort of got quite obsessed with making drawings that encourage people not to give up," he said. "It just sort of came out of nowhere."

An English illustrator with a dog living in the countryside trying to make us all feel better? I was hooked.

The book, which ended up under our Christmas tree as a gift for Ainsley, is charming, just like Doane's report.

"I hope this book encourages you, perhaps, to live courageously with more kindness for yourself and for others," Mackesy writes in the introduction. "And to ask for help when you need it - which is always a brave thing to do."

Each page features a wonderful drawing, almost always accompanied by a little gem of wisdom - often presented in response to a question from the boy.

"What do you think is the biggest waste of time?" he asks.

"Comparing yourself to others," said the mole.

"What do you think success is?" he asks.

"To love," said the mole.

"What do we do when our hearts hurt?"

"We wrap them with friendship, shared tears and time, till they wake hopeful and happy again," said the horse.

The book has had more success than Mackesy ever imagined. Initially only 10,000 copies were printed, but it's sold more than 2 million and spent 51 weeks on the New York Times' best-seller list. Oprah read it aloud live for the Chicago Public Library, using voices for the different characters, and it has been made into an audiobook, narrated by Mackesy himself.

Even Britain's health service has looked to Mackesy, using some of his lines to promote mental health, Doane reported.

"What is the bravest thing you've ever said?" said the boy.

"Help," said the horse.

Mackesy also has been posting inspirational sketches on Instagram and Facebook for a couple of years. One person on Instagram indicated Mackesy convinced him to ask for help rather than take his own life.

I think what I appreciated most about Mackesy was his humility. He said he really doesn't have the answers to life's complicated questions.

"I'm not on this side of the river saying, 'This is how you get across,' " he told Doane. "I'm on your side of the river going, 'Wow! That's a big river. How are we going to do this?' "

I also really appreciated the insight he offered on social media, where posts seem to depict perfect lives - and where people feel free to weigh in on all sorts of topics.

"You've got plenty of critics, so don't be your own critic," he said. "Encourage yourself. Be kind to yourself."

His book might look like it's for children, but his messages are ones we all need to hear. Especially now.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. This column was first published Feb.24, 2022, before Mackesy had adapted his book into an animated short film and won an Oscar for it.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean