Earlier this year, I sat in a classroom of 8th and 9th graders in Washington State. A boy started crying. He was so afraid because North Korea had just put out a video threatening to nuke an American city. The boy’s sister lives in Seattle, and he was so scared that his sister would die in a nuclear attack.
It reminded me of being 12 and watching the movie THE DAY AFTER, and not being able to sleep for a week. To this day, even seeing a screenshot of that movie scares the shit out of me.
Notice I’m not putting a nuclear cloud up here. I’m not doing it because it’s terror porn. And you know what? The world is scary enough without terror porn. I don’t want to see a nuclear explosion, and you don’t, either. I linked the above article because it talks about how it terrified a generation of kids, not because I wish to terrify anyone else.
I didn’t know what to say to make him feel better. It is scary. And to say, “Yeah, it’s scary, but it was scary when I was a kid, too, and nothing happened, so don’t worry,” is the kind of bullshit that gets kids to not listen to adults in their lives.
I watched the news this morning about the newest North Korean missile launch and yeah, it’s scary. I’m not alone in lacking confidence about the man in the White House, and his ability to be an adult in the face of difficult decisions. I hope he will be, but his immaturity scares me. A lot.
And thinking about how to comfort myself and how to comfort any young people who are scared made me think of what Mr. Rogers would say. Because no one has ever been more comforting to me than Mr. Rogers.
For those of you who didn’t grow up with Fred Rogers, he had a show on PBS called Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. He had a voice like strawberry yogurt, and his manner was as gentle as a down comforter.
In chaotic times for me as a kid–and there were, unfortunately, lots of them–I’d watch and he’d bring things back to their simplest, and we’d focus on him gently taking off his sweater, sitting in a comfortable chair, and drinking a cup of tea, and that always made me feel better. Always.
And in this situation, what he’d say would be, “Look for the helpers.” He’d say, when we see scary things on the news, look for the people who are helping, because they offer hope.
It’s hard to find helpers these days. I know we have lots of people yelling, and I don’t see a lot of people speaking calmly, like adults. Those people are, to me, the biggest helpers. I’d say look for those people.
If you look closely at your life, I bet some people will come to mind.
A few people in my life stand out as Big Time Helpers.
People like my friend Doug Bland, who runs an organization called Arizona Interfaith Power and Light, which is a religious response to global warming. He sees a threat to our planet, and he is dealing with it powerfully and actively and with love.
I think of Brian McNaught, who is the most Mr. Rogers person I know. Brian wrote a book called On Being Gay that saved my life when I was a kid. It showed me I wasn’t alone when I was pretty sure that I was. I’m going to visit with Brian next week, and I’m so excited to have a chance to spend some more time with him.
And I think of my dear friend Kriste Peoples, who founded the Black Women’s Alliance in Denver and co-founded a group called Outdoor Afro Colorado. Kriste is sunshine and warmth to me. She helps herself and other people to find joy in a world that can often feel so cold.
I don’t know that any of these people, Mr. Rogers included, can stop tragic things from happening. But I do know that they help. They help restore faith that the world is more good than not good. That people can make a difference. And I love them deeply for that.