Not long after reports of the bloodshed in Paris began to appear in the news, a familiar quote from Mister Rogers surfaced in my newsfeed, just as it had following other times the world was grieving some significant loss. After bombings. School shootings. Acts of terrorism.
In the now familiar black and white photo, Mister Rogers is wearing his signature cardigan sweater, his expression gentle and wise.
“When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news,” says Rogers in the quote, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
The first few times I saw the quote, I assumed it was meant as a tool for parents, a means by which they could help distract their children, who might be upset over what they were seeing and hearing in the news.
“Here’s a way to make this into something of a game,” the quote seemed to suggest. A Where’s Waldo? kind of thing, except instead of looking for a guy in a red and white sweater, they’d be searching for helpers, who sometimes aren’t so easy to find.
And yet they’re always there. Rushing into burning buildings. Braving treacherous winds or raging flood waters or dodging bullets in an attempt to rescue some stranger.
With every fresh atrocity comes stories of those who raced in to help out, without thought for their own safety.
Find the helpers. Look for the helpers.
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility,” Rogers once said. “It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Mister Rogers has long been one of my heroes. He was such a regular part of my childhood that I came to trust his simple wisdom. Since I was feeling nostalgic, I went online and did a quick search so I could listen again to his calming voice asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
As an old episode played in the background, I read about Rogers’ life. He was apparently the same gentle and unassuming person off-camera as on. He personally answered every piece of fan mail he ever received. And those trademark cardigan sweaters he wore on his show? They were all made by his mother.
Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, decided to go into children’s television after seeing a show where people were hitting each other in the face with pies. He found it so idiotic that he determined to put together a children’s show that was positive, substantive, and nurturing.
“The underlying message of the Neighborhood,” Rogers once said about his long-running PBS show, was that “if somebody cares about you, it’s possible that you’ll care about others. ‘You are special, and so is your neighbor’—that part is essential: that you’re not the only special person in the world. The person you happen to be with at the moment is loved, too.”
“The world is not always a kind place,” Rogers said. “That’s something all children learn, whether we want them to or not.”
And we need to help them find the helpers. Even make it a game, if need be, so the bad doesn’t overwhelm them.
Or overwhelm us.