I can’t say I have any particular great love for the news—it feels like every time one of my heroes gets too deep into any of the different stations, they end working themselves into an anxious mess. And with good reason, because it seems every time I find myself reading the news it seems to be an endless parade of doom, despair, and tragedy.
It’s in the face of those kinds of stories, the painful, tragic kind, that I think of the words of one unlikely-looking hero, one I think of often. I’ve long held to the tenet that heroes come in just about every shape and size imaginable, from every place imaginable. And this one certainly isn’t your traditional hero, a 143-pound man whose only armor is a cardigan and loafers.
Fred Rogers was an unusual hero to be sure—it is the rarest, and perhaps the most admirable type of person, one who devotes their life to a cause in which there is little chance for glory, little chance for reward, one who undertakes a quest where there is no great treasure of fame, wealth, or power—but takes the quest anyway, from a deep-seated conviction that it is the right thing to do. In the decadent age of Hollywood, Fred Rogers chose to forgo seminary and seek a career in television, but not out of any desire to climb the ladder or capitalize on a booming industry. “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”.
In an age when television was becoming the dominant force of media, and the news was beginning to trend more and more towards sensationalism, Fred Rogers saw something that was wrong with the world, and made the heroic decision to do something about it: to take a medium filled with powerful people trying to capture the attention of a nation at all cost, and use it to calm and educate children, seeking the help of musicians, puppeteers, and child psychologists to perfect the craft of wholesome, helpful programming for everyone.
There’s a quote he has on one of the episodes of his show, talking about what he does when he sees something tragic on the news. He said, “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.’” In the face of every catastrophe, great and small, you see that people do not just let tragedies go by the wayside. They help. People who oftentimes have devoted their lives to being helpers—doctors, nurses, firefighters, teachers, the list goes on and on. Helpers.
Helpers who affirm that, despite all the news stories with evidence to the contrary, it is indeed a beautiful day in the neighborhood, one in which we all have the opportunity to be good neighbors. Not out of any sense of gaining something, or owing anyone anything, but simply because we want to be helpers. Who with our actions answer the question: won’t you be my neighbor?
So whether you find the helpers on the news, in the streets, or in the mirror, you can always be sure they are there. And if you cannot find them, no matter how hard you look, then let me ask you: please, won’t you be my neighbor?
May the road rise up to meet you!