“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.” — Mr. Rogers
My husband and I just finished watching the news. He sighed and crossed his arms. I took his cue to ask him what was bothering him.
“This world. We brought our daughter into a messed up, scary world.”
“The world has always been scary,” I said. “But it’s always been pretty great too.”
Then the phrase: Witness to Oklahoma beheading interviewed, tonight! ran across the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen. My husband gave me the side eye.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s bad. But human history is filled with beheadings! Everything frightening in this world has been happening since the beginning of time. We’re fine.” Then I stroked the back of his hair, like what I just said was super helpful and reassuring.
I felt my own weird optimism shift, replaced with a sense that the veil wanted to be lifted from my eyes, but I couldn’t let it.
The world is filled with gruesome truths that seem more like scary movies than real life. My joyful childhood and life of privilege have shielded me from many horrors. Sure, I’ve had some “tough times.” I was chunky when I was a kid. I’ve been estranged from people I love. I’ve been dumped by a fiancé. I’ve had miscarriages. All of them worth the tears shed, yet seem so trivial to the frightening images we see looping on cable news.
Just this morning, a shooting at a Charleston church right after a bible study. ISIS reigning terror in Iraq. Little girls kidnapped in Nigeria by terrorists and despite all the #bringbackourgirls selfies, the girls still aren’t back and at least according to my news feed, we’re pretty much over it.
Israel, Hamas, terrorism, and dead children. Ferguson. Baltimore. Ebola. Robin Williams, suicide, depression. I know I’m neglecting at least 2 million other tragedies, but the point is – it’s bad.
But I think it’s important to remember it’s been bad throughout human history. There’s nothing new under the sun, we just didn’t have a 24-hour news loop. Pick a generation from the beginning of time and it’s easily riddled with atrocities. Yet, every time, the human race has overcome, carried on and evolved.
There’s an alternative to slipping into despair. I try to remember what Mr. Rogers’ mother said — look for the helpers.
Focus on the good.
My (what turned out to be a horribly depressing) point is, when the world seems to be ending thanks to evil, it isn’t. How do I know? There are helpers. I see hope. Love. Compassion. There is far more good poured out each day, even though it never leads the news reports when something else bleeds.
Our lives and pursuit of happiness may seem trivial in the face of such fear, terror and adversity, but it isn’t so. Just because tragedies are happening all around us doesn’t mean our lives, hopes, dreams, gifts and talents are pointless in the face of such horrors. Nothing about our spirit and destined purpose are trivial.
Of course, it may mean we need to be more grateful. It may mean we need to be more compassionate. Maybe more quiet, maybe more loud, or less self-absorbed. It may mean we need to get involved, take action. We may need to pray, or give money, or call a friend who lost a loved one on the phone instead of putting a heart emoticon on her Facebook timeline.
But it doesn’t mean we should quit. No, no. Or throw up our hands and say “What’s the point of waking up and working hard towards becoming a graphic designer? What narcissistic psychopath would want a logo for their beauty products when PEOPLE IN THE WORLD ARE DYING!” while emotionally eating the top off a gigantic muffin.
Sometimes the trivial can actually be monumental. A few years ago I wrote a story that went viral about accidentally farting in front of my (now) husband. Out of everything I’ve written, I’m not so sure a story about farting is the one I would have picked to go viral, but whatever, beggars can’t be choosers.
Since writing it, I’ve received a lot of emails from people, but three changed my life. Each one was from a different person with a different background, but a similar theme: They were going to commit suicide that night, had happened to read my story after it popped up on social media and they laughed so hard, they felt alive again. They felt hope. Then they thanked me, and that was it.
So what’s the point when the world is going to crap? That’s the point.
I chatted back and forth with each of them for a spell, did my best to connect them with professionals who can help guide them for the rest of their journey. I’m not naive, I don’t think any deep-rooted problems were solved with a belly laugh, but for a moment, a silly, “trivial” story made a huge difference in someone’s life. That gives me such hope.
Helpers are all around us. We can’t forget to look for good.
In Colorado, there was an outpouring of support for a foster child who went on Craigslist asking to rent a family for her birthday.
In my hometown of Omaha, a female officer was shot just hours before she was supposed to take maternity leave and the masses came forward to line our city’s streets to honor her.
During the recent civil riots in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore, there were hundreds peacefully protesting, praying, providing water, comfort and counseling.
And this is just what has been in my newsfeed this week.
Sometimes we can let the daily global, local or personal tragedies put us in such a malaise that we zip right by the old lady struggling to carry a bag of groceries up the stairs. And then we slam the door in her face.
I can’t help but feel like our gifts are suited exactly for troubled times like these. If it’s to make someone laugh, tell a lighthearted joke. If it’s to write, share an uplifting poem. If it’s to sing, softly serenade a baby to sleep. If it’s math, help me figure out how much my local furniture store’s 25% off sale will get me on a new writing desk.
I bet your heart will eventually nudge you to do something. In many cases it’s doing what you do best however trivial it may seem at the time.
And you know what? Sometimes we need to lay in bed and pull the blanket over our heads. If you need rest, please rest. But don’t lose hope. Don’t lose sight of your purpose. Don’t shrug off your gifts, talents or your dreams as trivial pursuits in light of a fallen world.
Take a pause. Take a break. Take a hiatus. Take a nap. But set an alarm. We think, “What’s the point?” when we’re hopeless. Our gifts were given to us so that we may give – hope.
Yes, I brought a child into an imperfect world that can be terrifying at times. It can also be so incredibly beautiful, complex and awe-inspiring. I wouldn’t want her to miss it for the world.
So get up. Look for the helpers. Become one. Look for the good. Give your gifts. Give hope.
If we don’t do it, who will?More On