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.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.
—Fred Rogers, of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame
My sister-in-law is a helper and a hero. She’s a lead nurse on a COVID ward in Milwaukee, one of so many healthcare workers having to make gut-wrenching decisions about who gets prioritized for lifesaving treatment…and who must wait. Here in Tucson, there’s another helper at the CVS pharmacy around the corner from where I live. He’s young, not long out of high school, working evenings as a cashier. He comes to work outfitted in a mask and disposable gloves. When I thanked him for wearing protective gear, he just replied (in so many words), “Well of course—I work in a drug store.” He is aware that people in his age bracket aren’t immune and, wisely, he also knows that he is responsible for his customers.
Like pretty much everywhere, our city’s shelter-in-place routine has evolved from temporary to almost-normal. And perhaps like many, I’ve lately been exhausted by the constant soundtrack of anxiety, both audible and internal. (My wife and I have taken to turning off the news on Wednesdays and Saturdays to dim the noise.) But I’ve also noticed something new happening around me and within me. It has a lot to do with helpers, and everything to do with love, shown in the many ways that people are extending themselves for the sake of others. Old friends are calling to check on how we’re doing, and we’ve been reaching out as well.
This deeper sense of connection seems to be happening—maybe has always happened—in many ways I’m seeing more immediately and clearly. In the past week or so I’ve noticed that our neighbors, strangers until now, wave to my wife and me when we walk by their porches. They are becoming neighbors. People just down the road have taken to placing teddy bears and other objects in their windows so that parents can create impromptu treasure hunts for their children. Others are stocking tables in their front yards with rolls of toilet paper and canned goods for anyone in need. They are the unheralded helpers—some might even say angels—among us.
I’m also noticing something more personal, maybe something that could be called my own “internal helpers” coming to awareness—like neglected friends who call anyway to check in. They are small, still reminders of our common humanity, activated most readily by acts of selflessness. They bring comfort, yes, but they also stretch my capacity for compassion, for seeing grace in unlikely places. Perhaps it is an invitation into a new range of possibility. Maybe it’s a territory beyond exhaustion, beyond certainty and even beyond the familiar routines still breaking at our feet.
—What familiar routines do you notice “breaking at your feet” in this time?
—Where do you see helpers emerging, both seen and unseen, perhaps bringing comfort or stretching you in some new way?
—Where have you noticed the voice of love finding its way to you, in you? What might it say in welcome of the new in you or around you?
—What (or who) is calling out for your help now?