How to Be…Mister Rogers
by Lindsay Timmington
On my way home tonight I was listening to MPR and the horrific stories coming in about the bombings in Boston when I noticed in my rearview mirror, the car behind me. They were pretty close to me and it was clear that the speed I was driving (ten miles over the speed limit) was too slow for them. I took a deep breath, brought my eyes back to the road and kept going. I stayed in the right lane knowing they would pass me. Normally this kind of stuff irks me but today it felt less than important. As they passed me, I turned to look at the car. The woman in the passenger seat was gesturing rudely and screaming profanities. I was flabbergasted. I wasn’t driving too slow, I stayed in the right lane so they could pass me and as far as I could tell I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But instead of feeling rage or anger, I just felt my heart drop. I was sad. After a day like today, with the world in a state of shock and anger and pain and disbelief, I thought-I hoped- maybe we could all band together, even for just a few hours, and be nice to each other.
There’s a quote from Mister Rogers that keeps coming up in the wake of this tragedy, “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.”
And he’s right. There are stories right now of people running towards the scene of the explosion to help. Stories of runners crossing the finish line and continuing to run to the hospital to give blood. Prayers, healing energy and love being sent from all over the world to the people affected. People want to help. People are helping. The good outnumber the bad.
I have to keep reminding myself of this. Because my first inclination is narrow my thoughts to those responsible. To the sick, to the twisted, to the people that could ever want to inflict this type of damage. And my second thought is what has been taken away from the runners who are now facing life as amputees, the people to whom running is more than just a physical practice, but a way of life, of connecting to themselves, to others, to something greater than all of us. And then I realize that that’s exactly the point of a terroristic act. To cause chaos. To induce anger. To incite fear. To shift the focus away from all the good, all the very good, decent, kind, loving people that walk this earth to those few people who are sick or evil or intent on perpetuating hate and violence in the world.
So I return to the quote, ” Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The stories will keep coming in. People taking in runners who have no way of contacting friends or families. People reaching out, connecting to strangers, showing support and love and compassion to their fellow man. And that’s as it should be. Not just on a tragic day, when we’re all reminded of the fragility of life, and how disconnection breeds hatred and violence. But everyday. Shouldn’t we be helping everyday?
Those of us who grew up watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood could all sing the opening song together, I imagine. In fact there’s a story about Mister Rogers attending a meeting in NYC and when he couldn’t get a cab, he and his companion decided to take the subway. Seeing as it was rush hour he figured he wouldn’t be recognized, but after sitting down the entire subway began singing “Won’t you be my neighbor.” Strangers, brought together, singing together, because of a man who symbolized compassion, patience, love.
Mister Rogers said, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.” Nurture. What a perfect word. It’s what he did. On the program, when he took time to feed his fish, he’d always announce it to the audience. Curious, right? But he did it because a five-year old blind girl asked him to. She wrote him, saying, “Please say when you are feeding your fish, because I worry about them. I can’t see if you are feeding them, so please say you are feeding them out loud.” So he did. One simple small act of kindness. One act that showed care and concern and compassion for another human being.
No one is saying we have to love every person on the planet. We don’t need to stand around, holding hands singing “Kumbaya” together. But whether we like it or not, whether we feel it or not, we are all neighbors. From the people next door to the people across the world. The way we act and treat each other matters.
And it’s worth remembering, for every person in a passenger seat spewing hatred at another driver, there is someone who would pull over to the side of the road to help change a flat tire. For every person who sets off a bomb, there are hundreds more ready to and willing to run into the smoke to take care of the injured. We are all neighbors in this life, it’s up to us to choose to help rather than to hurt. To choose kindness and compassion over fear and anger. To remember Mister Rogers and what he stood for, what he believed in, what he taught us. Love, kindness, compassion. It’s all around us. Let’s find it.
Look for the helpers. Be a helper. Be Mister Rogers.