Point of No Return — We can still learn from Mister Rogers

Date Published: 
Oct. 6, 2017

When in doubt, turn to Mister Rogers.


From 1968 to 2001, the iconic Fred Rogers entertained this nation’s youth via his PBS show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” For decades, children sang along with Rogers as he entered his home, changed into his slippers and put on his sweater. He taught children to share, to be kind and how to be brave when going to a doctor or starting school.

Rogers was a gentle soul, and his legacy is still going strong today, as evidenced by my daughter’s infatuation with “Daniel Tiger,” a cartoon that sprung from a popular character on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

A few years ago I was watching a special on PBS about how to talk with your kids about some of the tragedies or boorish behavior we have around us in this upside-down world. The host cited a personal story that Fred Rogers had shared with people over the years, and I was able to track down a 1986 syndicated column that Rogers had written to find mention of that story.

“I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.

“For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.

“There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: ‘Always look for the helpers,’ she’d tell me. ‘There’s always someone who is trying to help.’ I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.”

Man, isn’t that the truth?

How many tales of heroism have we heard from the mass shooting in Las Vegas? There was one I was reading the other night about a Marine veteran who stole a truck while the shooting was going on and transported nearly 30 people to the hospital while bullets were still raining down indiscrimately on the crowd.

There was another article I read about how two off-duty firefighters were shot while administering first aid to other victims. We all saw the images of strangers pulling strangers over barriers or wading back out into the “killing field” to rescue more people, and how would you have liked to have been a police officer walking down that hotel hallway, knowing that behind one of those doors was a heavily-armed person who has shown no regard for human life?

Heroes. Everywhere you looked — heroes.

How about during the coverage of the storms in Texas and Florida? People were filling the highways with their personal boats to try to help flood victims. People were willingly jumping into danger to rescue people from their submerged vehicles. Food and supply drives around the country were formed instantly, and online fundraising campaigns nearly broke the Internet.

Yes, there are unspeakable horrors all around us. Flip on the news network of your choice and there is blanket coverage of shootings, storms, conflicts with other nations, property crimes, overdoses, rapes, disease, unsafe drinking water... the list goes on and on in such a way as to challenge your sanity and belief in humanity.

But then, as Fred Rogers said, you find the heroes.

And it’s really not that hard. They are all around us, every single day. Watch our local law enforcement, and see how active they are these days in regards to “community policing.” We go to John West Park a lot, and there is often an Ocean View police officer talking with people and interacting with kids. Or walk the streets in Bethany Beach, and observe how officers are often standing there, chatting with business owners and families. They are offering protection at all times, and being invested in the citizens they are sworn to protect.

We stopped at the Roxana fire hall last Saturday to take in the model railroad show, and my daughter wandered outside to stare at the fire trucks. It was just a typical day of operations for the fire company, and they were cleaning equipment and working on other tasks, but two separate firefighters made it a point to come talk to my daughter and let her check out the trucks. One took the time to turn on the lights for her, and she ended up leaving with a little plastic hat and a giant smile.

On Sunday, the Millville fire hall had an open house, and it featured antique trucks, EMS equipment and personnel, a state police helicopter and a DNREC enforcement boat. Volunteers at the company and in the various departments took the time to explain things to us and show us their gear, and it was just an all-around great time — thanks to local heroes.

It was special for my daughter especially because she is fascinated by our everyday heroes. When she hears a siren, she excitedly quits what she’s doing and says, “Help. People are going to help people.” She then closes her eyes and says we have to pray.

Sure, that came from us, and it started because she used to get very scared whenever she heard a siren, often to the point of tears. But, thanks to Mister Rogers, and our own parents growing up, we learned to steer her to paying attention to the heroes who are coming to try to make everything better.

Yeah, we have a lot of disgusting things all around us, and there’s just no arguing that point. But there’s also something to be said for humanity, and that we get the opportunity to see that take center stage during the darkest of times.

Always look for the helpers.