an open letter to the helpers

 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.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
-Fred Rogers

After learning about the devastating school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I was at a loss for words. Like so many people, I was stunned and sad, trying to figure out what to do with my sense of helplessness. I went to Brené Brown’s Ordinary Courage blog and found the above quote, and then continued to see it posted on social media sites. It spoke to me.

I was raised with the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, but at the time, I had no idea how profound and wise his words were. I just found him comfortable and predictably steady. I liked that. Life can be so complicated, and someone as calm and wise as Mr. Rogers can provide exactly what a kid from a divorced family needs (or any kid, for that matter).

Mr. Rogers was a helper.

Disasters so often make people focus on what’s wrong in the world; guns, violence, poverty, hatred, ignorance, the lack of social services, etc. And these are all facts. There are lots of things wrong in the world. But there are also some amazing and beautiful and freaking incredible things right with the world, and that’s what Mr. Rogers’ mother was so keen on pointing out. There are always helpers somewhere. In any challenging situation, you can focus on the darkness and the pain, or you can focus on the people who are willing to sift through the pain to go directly to the source of healing. In other words, you can be a part of the solution, or….you can be a helper, neighbor.

I want to be a helper.

And I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who know how to be helpers: People who aren’t afraid to stand in the muck for a cause or be spat at for being or thinking differently. People who are capable of sitting with others who are struggling with despair without trying to make it better for their own comfort. People who get that sometimes helping is letting others suffer, but not having to go it alone. People who drop what they’re doing to bake a pie in your kitchen so you don’t have to cry alone, but who don’t force you to eat a damned thing. People who go to the homes of dying people and offer to read, give a massage, watch TV, sit in silence, pray. People who offer their gloves to a homeless person or give a gift card for coffee. People who work with chronically mentally ill people and are willing to see beyond a deficiency and toward wholeness. People who don’t judge other people because of their past or the way they look or the way they talk. People who teach other people. People who continue to learn about how to be a better person. People who open the doors for other people, not because of gender or age, but because of pure kindness. People who spread love and light and joy.

I have known so many helpers, and I have been honored to be mentored and loved by them. Helpers love. Helpers listen. Helpers witness. Helpers heal.

Thank you to all the helpers.