I may be the only person in America who has never seen an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood—I was of the Captain Kangaroo generation myself, and never had children—but a quote by Fred Rogers has been floating around Facebook, and it’s started me thinking:
“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.’”
Look for the helpers. What great advice.
Years ago, during a rough patch (divorce, job loss, chronic illness, no health insurance), I made a list of all the people who’d made a difference in my life—everyone I could think of from my earliest memories on. Good friends and family members were on the list, of course. So were the names of mentors and teachers, authors I’d read and loved, people I admired. The Beatles were there, and Emily Dickinson, Gloria Steinem and Albert Schweitzer. The names of the cats and canaries I’d shared my life with, and descriptions of a few people whose names I didn’t know: People who’d been kind in passing. I typed each name in a font that seemed especially right for the person and their role in my life and printed them on a kind of scroll, which I edged with gold ribbon. For a long time, the scroll hung on my wall where I could read it—it was a good six feet long—and, many years later, I still keep it in a desk drawer.
I didn’t call my scroll a list of helpers, but now that that word has come into my awareness, it seems to fit. At every time in my life, even when things were so bleak I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make it, I have always had helpers. Some got me through a terrible day. Some changed my life. Each one gave me something I needed: advice, time, rides, jokes, wine, DVD’s, comfort, and cash, as well as an occasional good smack (metaphorically speaking) when I was drowning in self-pity. I haven’t always recognized them until later—I’m sure there are many I haven’t recognized at all. But they’ve been there.
Looking for the helpers strikes me as a life strategy that is both positive and practical, something we can do in a concrete and mindful way to make our lives better.
When I prepare a lesson for a class or step nervously in front of a room of eager, demanding students: Who are the helpers?
When I sit down to a blank computer screen with nothing but a head full of words and an urge to write: Who are the helpers?
When I see loved ones in pain: Who are the helpers?
When events at an elementary school leave my heart and my country shaken to its roots: Who are the helpers?
Of course, there’s a flipside to the story: When and how can I be a helper? Whom can I help? But we can’t answer those questions for ourselves unless we ourselves are nourished and supported. And consciously, purposely identifying the helpers in our own lives is one way to make sure we are.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...