I think we are all pretty familiar with the feeling of dread that accompanies almost every moment of news coverage these days. From nationalist rallies to genocide coverups to privacy and banking breaches to rising international tensions to extreme weather growing more and more extreme, the world definitely feels like it is teetering on a knife edge most of the time.
I can barely stomach the news most days, and those that I can handle tend to be delivered with a healthy dose of gallows humour. As much as we may want to look away and ignore what is happening, we feel an obligation to bear witness, to help when and where we can, to feel all the the helplessness and rage that comes from the tumultuous times in which we find ourselves.
In times of trial, people seek comfort in the familiar — some turn to religion, some to family, and some of us turn to those things we used to count on when we were young. The trailer for the new Mr Rogers film drops on Monday, and out of all the movies that have come out this year, I think I am looking forward to this one the most.
Fred Rogers was a staple in the childhoods of millions. Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood ran for thirty years. And as we all grew up to learn ugly truths about one child tv celebrity after another, Mr Rogers was steadfast. Under scrutiny he was just who we all believed he was: a good, kind man who only wanted to help people and give children hope.
Earlier this week, Wil Weaton showed off his new tattoo of a blue sweater and a quote from the man himself that has resonated with me for a long while now: “Look for the helpers.”
If you don’t already know the story behind it, it was something that Mr Roger’s mother used to tell him when he was young and saw troubling events unfold in the news:
I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.
For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.
There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.
Fred Rogers inspired compassion, empathy, and tolerance through his television show. He provided something that we are desperately lacking in media today — a sense of calm and gentle courage. And while the advice “Look for the Helpers” was meant for children, I think that it can provide adults with much needed direction as well. We all can help in one way or another. We are the helpers.
All these years later, I can mostly remember the songs and the trolley, but I have no doubt at all that Fred’s easy kindness helped to make me who I am today. He has become the standard against which I measure genuine goodness.
As life grows more complicated, I find myself searching more and more for simple wisdom — whether it comes from someone like Mr Rogers or from Winnie the Pooh, I believe that simplicity is the balm for the wounds we suffer on a daily basis.
Take a moment, go outside and bask in the sunshine (or dance in the rain). Smell a flower. Read a book made of paper. Sit and savour a cup of tea. Leave your phone on the charger. Write your feelings with pen and paper. Let’s all find life together.
Won’t you be my neighbour?