I was fifteen when I watched the Twin Towers fall on TV in Mr. Hunter’s English 10 class. I was old enough to understand human suffering and death, but too young to truly empathize. Yesterday at the gym, I watched the horrible footage of the aftermath of the bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line and I choked back tears on the elliptical. In the cloud of smoke and haze, in the moments of uncertainty, people dashed forward without hesitation. People lifted twisted metal off the hurt. People ran with wheelchairs to retrieve victims and returned to ferry others to safety. And (it chokes me up to even think of it), runners crossed the finish line and kept running to hospitals to give blood.
This humble, stalwart bravery is nothing new– for every massive, violent act we witness as a nation, we see also see a greater, more fearless response. It happened September 11th, it happened in Newtown, it happened in Littleton, and in countless other places. But this time, for a reason I cannot name, those images of people running into the unknown have touched me more deeply and profoundly.
Judging from the ubiquitous postings of support and heartbreak on social media, the actions of those brave responders have had the same effect on my friends and those I follow. One only needs to look for Fred Rogers. More than any other figure, Bible verse, or quote, Mr. Rogers and his faith in finding helpers in difficult situations surfaced time and time and time again on every social media site to which I subscribe.
Mr. Rogers was– and continues to be– a quiet force of good, even during dark times. A steady, unwavering beacon of hope. He is the very best of what humanity can be: genuine, caring, with an unshakable moral center. Through the magic of television, he continues to reassure us and explain difficult and sometimes scary moments with grace. When I first saw the meme on a friend’s wall, I commented sadly and without irony that “The world needs more Mr. Rogerses.” It seems that that sentiment is all over the United States tonight. We need Mr. Rogers today. We need his empathy and kindness. We need his steadfastness.
So, today, be Mr. Rogers for someone. Even if it’s for just one person.
Treat everyone as your neighbor.
Love someone who is unlovable or difficult. Love them anyway. Love them unconditionally.
Tell someone that you can see an inherit worth in them, even if they cannot see it themselves. Even if no one else can see it. Even if what you see is just a very small, very miniscule glimmer deep within them.
Treat someone with dignity, regardless of their position or what they can do for you. Don’t ignore the janitor. Say hello. Smile. Nod. Acknowledge their humanity.
Stand up to an injustice. Speak for someone whose voice is weak or silent.
Offer kindness to someone. A handshake to someone who is lonely. A granola bar to someone who is hungry. A smile to someone who is sad.
Share something with one who has nothing. Don’t think about the reward, material or otherwise.
Thank someone to whom gratitude is rarely shown. Take cookies to your local post office. Tip the waitress who knows your lunch order by heart more than you normally do. Write a letter of compliment about the cashier at your grocery store’s excellent service and make sure the manager receives it.
Ease someone’s burden, even if it makes yours temporarily heavier. Give someone the chance to rest.
Accept someone who is different. Don’t worry what others may think or how it may affect your reputation. Reach across whatever divide separates you from them.
Pray for someone. Really pray for them and mean it.
And don’t stop with today. Be Mr. Rogers for someone else tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Kindness and good works will never completely expunge the darkness from our broken world. That doesn’t mean we should give up; darkness can only exist where there is an absence of light. Light as many corners of our world as possible.
And make every day a beautiful day in your neighborhood.