Look for the helpers

A little boy grinning and grasping Mr. Rogers's face

Photo by Jim Judkis

You may have seen the image before, associated with this quote:

“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.” — Mister Rogers

Today, the Washington Post published the full story behind the boy in the photo, written by the photographer’s daughter:

Tommy Paulhamus was born on July 7, 1973. He had hydroencephalitis, a condition where fluid collected around his brain, causing a larger-than-normal skull, and Dandy-Walker syndrome, which affected his balance and coordination. He had shunts in his skull to drain his fluids. His eyes were crossed, and his fine and gross motor skills were impaired. Paulhamus said Tommy was rejected by his birth mother at a young age.

“His mother missed out on a great blessing,” said Paulhamus, who lives in Danville, Penn. “I’m glad his mother gave him up, because I got him. He would say to me, ‘Mom, what would I do without you?’”

 I’ve read it twice today and may just read it again.

9 thoughts on “Look for the helpers

  1. When Fred Rogers died I was an intern in the House of Representatives. A bill was introduced to commemorate his life and, as is the habit, members made comments from the floor. I was able to write the remarks for the member I worked for and supplied the following:

    “Mr. Speaker, in a world where too often neighbors have become strangers, the meaning of “Love thy neighbor” has dwindled. Fred Rogers never lost that spirit. He accepted us into his neighborhood, into his home, and presented our children with a message that you should be loved for who you are.

    “The whole idea,” said Mr. Rogers, “is to look at the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could to a person who needs it.”

    Fred Rogers recognized the power of television to carry out that message of caring, and become involved in children’s broadcasting during its infancy. In the early 1950s he began working in public television at WQED, the first community public television station in the nation. On his lunch breaks, he attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and graduated magna cum laude with the Class of 1962 with his Master’s in Divinity. The day after graduation he was called to Canada to being MISTEROGERS , the show that would evolve into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on his return to Pittsburgh a year later.

    Mr. Rogers’ teaching did not end at the close of each broadcast, or even when he left the studio. Through Family Communications, Inc., Fred Rogers was able to foster girls’ involvement in math and science, educate children about the dangers of prejudice, and teach pre-schoolers anger management. Through Safe Havens Training Project, Mr. Rogers was able to educate childcare workers on how to deal with children that witnessed violence, proving them a place where they could feel safe.

    Fred Rogers also remained active in the ministry, educating a new generation of ministers at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Summer Youth Institute. Mr. Rogers would spend an afternoon with the teenagers, hoping to impart to them the importance of the doctrine of love and caring that he had made the center of his life.

    Mr. Rogers was a teacher, an educator, and a presence in many of our children’s lives. The neighborhood will miss him.”

    To my mind, it still does. I know that this post was intended to be a recognition of caregiving, but I feel as though the singular spirit of Fred Rogers ought to still be commemorated.

  2. Dave, I love that you wrote it and that you saved it. Fred Rogers was indeed a singular spirit. I was hoping to honor his memory as well as Tommy’s — and, indeed, to honor the role of his mom. Who saved whom?

    • Thanks, Dave. Luckily, it’s part of my work process as well as a personal project, this study of the impact of the internet on our lives.

  3. Fred Rogers gave the best commencement speech I have ever heard, at Dartmouth College (which he attended briefly) in 2002. I sat there on that sunny June morning and heard him say these words:

    “Well, what is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person that you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person and often many who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.
    I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you and encouraged you and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside yourself. And I feel that you deserve quiet time on this special occasion to devote some thought to them. So let’s just take a minute in honor of those who have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.
    Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be that during your silent times you remember how important they are to you. It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our lives from which we make our choices is very good stuff.”

    He was a revolutionary communicator, someone who could speak through the television with a gentle voice and let children know they were important, and that he liked them just they way they were.

    Here’s the rest of the transcript for those who are interested. It was a short and wonderful speech – http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/2002/june/060902c.html

    • Jeremy, that comment is going to redirect my day, maybe my week – thank you so much. As a child I loved Mr. Rogers so much that I felt a personal connection, like he was speaking only to me sometimes. That’s all rushing back.

  4. “The whole idea,” said Mr. Rogers, “is to look at the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could to a person who needs it.”

    Change “the television camera” to “social media.” Rinse, Repeat.

  5. A special few, like Mr. Rogers, have a gift of building and sharing Community with people through a traditional medium like television. I’m grateful for that, and for the fact that so many who learned from him, are using social media to build and share Community even more broadly.

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