I had just finished work on Monday when I turned on the television, hoping to catch a few minutes of “Ellen” before starting dinner, walking the dog, putting on a load of laundry, picking the car up from the gas station. (New tires in anticipation of a trip to Malice were in order.) I saw the news. I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach again, the one that told me “my family lives in the Boston area…my aunt and uncle took the kids into the city today…I wonder where they are now?...god, I hope they are safe.” A few texts to my cousin assured me that while they did go into the city, they were at the ball game and on a train on the way home. Yes, they had been asked to exit the train and were stranded somewhere but a family member was on the way to get them.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
But as the evening wore on, the news got worse and worse and the dread returned. I focused instead on the people who went into harm’s way to help the fallen, those who gave rides to grievously injured victims, those who had run the marathon themselves but who then turned into first responders when they saw people on the route who needed help.
Mr. Rogers said that in times like these, when trying to explain to children why evil people do horrible things to innocents, we should “look for the helpers.” I grew up with a “helper,” a father who was a police officer and most likely saw terrible things happen to innocent people, and I have always found comfort in that, the idea that my father traveled along side someone in their darkest moment, helping them come out on the other side, wherever that might have been. When I scanned the news footage and saw all the people helping one another—the cops who looked like younger versions of my dad, the onlookers who looked like my family who lives in the area, the kids who reminded me of my own—I just kept reciting “look for the helpers” and that made the images a little easier to watch. Not much, but a little bit.
New York was never the same after 9/11 and I had hoped that that feeling of camaraderie and togetherness would live on forever. Maybe it has in some small way but after time passes, life returns to “normal”—whatever that is after something like this happens—and people forget that we’re all in this together, that we are all each other’s “helpers,” letting someone merge in on the road when you’re in a rush, holding open the subway doors for a mom pushing a stroller, holding someone’s hand after something catastrophic has brought you both together. I don’t think we can stop this insanity—it will always be an undercurrent in our society—but we can try to hold onto the feeling of what it was like to see the helpers on those Boston streets and know that that is what triumphs over evil every time: helping.