Over the past month there have been a number of extremely difficult and tragic events for our country and for our world. Unfortunately the challenges of the past month were preceded by many months and years of challenges before it. It is almost needless to say that these have been tough times for the global human community.
Here in the United States, in August we experienced catastrophic and deadly flooding in Tennessee, and just a few weeks later, the most powerful Hurricane to ever make landfall in Louisiana wiped out homes, businesses, and communities and was followed by flooding and many deaths across the northeastern part of the United States.
Also in August, we witnessed the disturbing and chaotic end to America’s longest war and the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and we know the oppression this will mean for millions of Afghans, especially for women and girls. This week thousands of Afghan refugees are being located in communities across our country, and I hope that we will embrace them as neighbors and friends.
Over the last month, not only has our human community faced tragedy and the threat of tragedy, our ecological community has also experienced loss related to uncontrolled wildfires in the West; and just this past week some of the most majestic trees in the world, the giant Sequoias of California, narrowly escaped the flames during a year of some of the worst wildfires ever seen. While these fires raged, the world’s climate scientists recently reminded us that we are currently falling far short of the systemic changes required to avoid climate chaos by the end of this century.
And if all of this were not enough, COVID-19 in the form of its more contagious and deadly delta variant has continued to ravage our communities and families at an alarming and accelerated pace, and in states like my own state of Oklahoma, our leaders continue to put their heads in the sand by ignoring the urgency of implementing the most basic of public health measures that could save the lives of thousands of persons. This past week we passed the grim milestone of over 10,000 Oklahomans dying of COVID, and nationally more U.S. Americans have now died of COVID-19 than the number of Americans who died of the 1918 Flu Pandemic.
As scary as all of this is for us adults, imagine how scary it must be for children and young people, especially those who are experiencing these tragic events directly.
As I have seen these horrific events play out among us and around us, I have often found myself taking refuge in the words and thoughts of a person who gave me comfort and assurance during my childhood – one of my lifelong heroes, the Reverend Mr. Fred Rogers.
In reflecting on how to help children though scary times and tragic events, Mr. Rogers once wrote these words:
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, “Having People Close Can Calm Child’s Fears,” The Orlando Sentinel, June 25, 1986.
Reading these words from Mr. Rogers reminds me that If more people looked up to Mr. Rogers as their role model, especially men and boys, rather than looking to examples of toxic masculinity, that many of the world’s problems would be much more on their way to being solved.
Mr. Rogers’ words remind me that in the midst of all that has happened and that is happening in our world today, there are so many persons and communities of persons who have been helpers: the persons who rescued others from the storms and the floods; the persons who tried to save and evacuate as many people as possible from Afghanistan in the midst of both the risk and sadly the reality of death; the firefighters who have saved as many homes, communities, and forests as possible from the raging flames; and the incredible yet under-appreciated healthcare workers who continue to work countless hours to save the lives of so many persons regardless of their vaccination status.
These helpers are amazing, and we should be so thankful for what they have done and what they are doing to save as much as possible from being lost in these incredibly challenging times; but in addition to being grateful, I think we should also feel anger. We should be angry that the helpers among us are being taken advantage of, abused, and put in positions that are untenable. Many of the helpers are getting sick, are dying, and being put in extremely dangerous situations, many of which could have been avoided if we as a society had heeded the warnings of the climate scientists, refrained from 20-year long wars of failed nation building, and taken the basic mitigation measures necessary during a public health emergency rather that selfishly clinging to a false notion of freedom without social responsibility.
Yes, we should look for the helpers, but we should also be looking to help the helpers by finding ways together to create a world in which we no longer put the helpers at unnecessary risk. We should work together to create a world in which we no longer require exploitation of helpers for our survival. By creating such a world, we all become a part of the community of helpers as well.
Yes, in these times of trouble, look for the helpers, but when we find them, let’s help the helpers, let’s work to protect them, let’s create systems in our society to avoid a never-ending cycle of tragic events. Let’s not only look for the helpers, but let us also be the people that Mr. Rogers’ mother encouraged him to look for as a child. Let us be the ones who bring assurance and safety to the children and others who are so frightened by the scary events of our world by doing all we can to make our world a little less scary place to live in.
Let us look for the helpers, let us be the helpers, let us be the helpers of the helpers, and let us help one another build Beloved Community together. May it be so with our help.