Look for the helpers.
This thought has been consistently running through my mind for the past many weeks. It comes from Fred “Mister” Rogers, and the context is this:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Though helpers have always abounded, I have been most aware of them since the 21st century began. 9-11, Katrina, Sandy, Newtown, Covid-19; these are the intermittent public tragedies that have marked this time period for me, and the ones during which I have looked for, found, or been one of the helpers. If I’ve been, it’s been through minor deed; there is so, so much more that I could be doing and could have done. But in my small way, I’m trying right now as I have through these other traumatic events. I hope it goes without saying that there have obviously been innumerable events this century that I haven’t named, war and famine, tsunamis and mass shootings, hate crimes and water crises … the ones I listed above are the ones that most profoundly directly impacted me. Social media is filled with “What about”isms, and to my mind this is a lazy form of empathy, shaming people for whom some events resonate more personally than others. I care about people in nations I’ve never visited and can’t place on a map. I care about mass shootings that don’t take place in elementary schools, I care about illness that never makes its way to my hometown.
And during the events I mentioned above, I have found the helpers in unlikely places. Over the past nine+ weeks they’ve included the friends I’d lost track of who’ve reached out to me, the close friends who intuitively get why my particular situation is a challenge, the strangers who wave when I’m out on a walk, the woman who reminded me to breathe when I started stress-crying at the grocery store, the person from the TM center who answered my desperate email, every one of my new colleagues in my grassroots political work, and every one of you … if you’re taking the time to read my words you are one of my personal helpers because writing is therapeutic for me and having an audience makes it matter more.
We have a unique opportunity born of unfathomable circumstances. We can all decide to be part of the solution. We can’t fix this crisis or directly save the lives of the many, many more who will perish from this virus. But we can certainly do our part by wearing masks and washing hands and socially distancing. And beyond that, like the woman who was kind to me when I lost it at the grocery store, we can muster empathy for one another. We can recognize that rich or poor, gay or straight, black or white, Democrat or Republican, Christian or atheist, Muslim or Jew, woke or ostrich-like … and any single one of the myriad variables among these markers … we are all going through this. If you are a mask-refusing rights-screaming Covid-denier, you don’t read my blahhhhg. If you are reading, I’m certain you’re not one of the aforementioned decidedly unhelpful people. So to you I urge, be part of the solution. Be nice to one another. Be nice to me. Understand that none of us is behaving perfectly right now and you will never get the exact reaction you need at the exact time. Human beings don’t operate like that. To this quarantine we all bring our lifetimes of habits and fears and anxieties and pre-conceived notions and fixed behaviors … this came on far more suddenly than most of us could have anticipated and we are making it up every day as we go along. Cut yourselves and your loved ones a hell of a lot of slack. We are ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Some of us have more space to roam than others, some of us are employed, some of us are home-schooling children and have little bandwidth for anything else, some of us have just lost our jobs and have no idea where to turn, some of us are grieving the loss of loved ones, some of us are working round-the-clock to save lives. We are all in this together.
Look for the helpers and you’ll find them. I’m one of them – I can’t do everything or be everywhere, but if you need to talk, I am here.
I mean it.