As I have aged, one of the hardest things I have found about being counted amongst the "grown-ups" has been having the curtain pulled all the way back, leaving me privy to the true evil in the world. No matter how old or jaded I am, I am never prepared for it; it's always surprising, and it's always scary, especially now that I am a parent.
Whenever something horrible happens, though -- think Columbine, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Newtown -- a reassuring quote from a reassuring figure from my childhood surfaces. "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,'" said Mr. Rogers. Of course, Mr. Rogers's mother was right. There are always helpers, as well as other people I think of as heroes, who reveal themselves in times of crisis.
I think we can all agree that recently, the headlines in the news have been particularly discouraging, especially for a woman who grew up in the '80s believing there would be nothing better than to be a Huxtable. Each day seems to bring a new accusation against Bill Cosby, a man who I once thought was a leader among both men and fathers but now actually makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I see pictures of him. The loss of life and trust in places like Ferguson and Cleveland and Staten Island leaves me wiping away tears. In my social media newsfeeds and on the network news, I am hit by story after story of college campus rape cultures and young women who end up missing and then dead or burned alive after buying gas, stories terrifying for me as both the mother of young men and the mother of a baby girl.
In the past few days, I have had to shut my laptop several times before I might have to answer what "rectal hydration" means to my 12-year-old son who loves his "We the People" Civics club. This weekend, I paused to honor the memory of the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School who were murdered two years ago in their classrooms, even as terrorists held downtown Sydney hostage and then killed more than a hundred students in Pakistan. The words keep running through my head: the horror, the horror.
This recent parade of terribles has left me looking at my children and wondering, where are the helpers? Where are the heroes and the role models, the ones who will restore my faith in the inherent goodness of people? I need Mr. Rogers. We all need Mr. Rogers.
I feel like I need to find people to hold up for my children and say, this is the kind of person I hope you are, the kind of men and women I hope you will grow up to be. Right now, that seems like a tall order. In a world ruled by a 24-hours news cycle, very few halos remain untarnished. We get to watch, in real time, as our public figures fall from grace, sometimes pretty spectacularly. Football stars knock their partners out cold in elevators, baby-faced pop stars show up on CNN in mug shots, and our politicians disappoint us, one by one. In this season that usually lifts my spirits, I am feeling something akin to grief, and I am still mourning the loss of Robin Williams, if I am being honest. Maybe now more than ever, I feel the void left where before he might have made me smile.
Are there heroes left in this crazy world, I wonder? But I know there are. I know there are men and women doing wonderful, inspiring things every single day, working to change the world, trying to write different headlines. I see the occasional story about them on social media or on television, scenes of unexpected goodness and love and bravery, but I don't see them enough. I want to know their names; I want to see their names dominating my newsfeed. I realize that one of my most important responsibilities as a parent is to raise human beings who will walk around in the world, acknowledging and honoring differences, respecting and protecting others, and taking positive, sometimes difficult, action when it is necessary. I will do my absolute best to raise those humans, but I can't do it alone. I need help.
My children need to see what a true leader looks like, what a hero is, in 2014, so they don't grow up believing CaptainSparklez is a worthy role model -- and I have decided to start pointing more often to the heroes close to home as well as the ones in the wider world. While I will show my children stories about Nobel winner Malala Yousafzai, I will also tell them about my college friend Dr. Celine Gounder and the other doctors and nurses still willing to go to Africa to fight Ebola, even though their names usually only make headlines if they themselves contract the disease. I'll let my kids know that their elementary school teachers are donating their time after school to tutor local homeless students just because it makes a real difference to those children. I will work harder to be a helper in my own community, too, so I can remind my children that it starts with us: we can be the helpers.
This country is in crisis, and Mr. Rogers told us that if we look, we will find the good even when we are scared. I know he was right.
Do you know a real hero or "helper" (famous or not)? Nominate him or her in the comments below!