Bass Mitchell: Continuing violence needs swift attention
Sleep hasn’t come easily these past few weeks, watching reports of yet one more senseless massacre in one of our schools. One picture still haunts me – the woman who is sobbing, the sign of a cross in ashes still on her forehead from having attended an Ash Wednesday service the night before. Ash Wednesday – that somber service that reminds us of our sinful nature and mortality – both vividly demonstrated the very next day in a school.
My emotions have gone from profound sadness to anger, and at last to despair. There is a part of me that just wants to throw up my hands, sink into hopelessness. For it seems that there is nothing that we can do or that we are willing to do, if not to prevent more of these, at least limit them. It’s like this thick, dark cloud hangs over us with seldom any breaks to allow through the light.
One of those sleepless nights, I was especially feeling this deadening despair when I came across another, very different kind of news article. As I read it, those dark clouds had to give way, and this warm, bright, hope-giving light filled the room and my heart.
It was about the 50th anniversary of the TV Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The first show aired Feb. 19, 1968, 50 years ago. The article talked about its continuing impact. There will be TV specials on it. The post office is issuing special stamps. Best of all, it had a wonderful picture of Mister Rogers, who had the kindest face and the most gentle voice, who, with just his presence, brought you comfort and reassurance.
Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister. His ministry was to children and parents. The very heart of his work was based on the teachings of Jesus, especially the parable of the Good Samaritan. He taught us in simple ways and songs what it means to be a good neighbor, that we are all neighbors, and that we all should treat one another with respect and love.
That article made me remember something that Mister Rogers often said. He spoke of how when he was a boy and something scary happened, his mother would always say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” He added, “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.” He went on later to give a message to the media to not just showcase the persons who do these acts of violence but even more put the camera on the helpers, so, as he says, we will know there is “hope,” even in the midst of senseless violence.
Maybe the media is paying attention. For there have been reports, not just on this sick young man and the terrible things he did, but even more the camera has scanned the sidelines…to one of the school janitors in the school who led many kids out of the area of the shooting; of the assistant football coach who literally placed himself between the shooter and students, losing his life as a result; the many EMTs, the doctors and nurses who saved lives; the many counselors and police officers, and thousands and even millions of “neighbors” all over the country and beyond reaching out in love and support. I hope we will keep getting many such reports that are looking for the helpers, so that we can have a little extra hope.
As I have reflected on all of this and the dark cloud of despair gave way partly to the rays of hope, I couldn’t help but wonder something else…The mother of Mister Rogers, and the story about the Good Samaritan, are telling us more than just to look for the helpers, but to become one ourselves!
Maybe we will never be on camera or have articles written about us, but every day, if we pay attention, we will come across those wounded and beaten up in many different ways, laying to the side of the road, persons who need a helper, a neighbor, a Samaritan.
Another thought came to me beyond looking for helpers and even becoming helpers…Wouldn’t it be better in the long run if we all found ways to work for a world that is less violent and that didn’t need so often so many helpers?
We desperately need as a people to come together on how we can make our schools and our whole society safer. We need to talk about it, to debate it, and then take action. Our elected leaders should be taking the lead on this, but many won’t even talk about it. They get away with it because we allow them to, we do not demand that they address this deadly epidemic of violence.
I don’t know the answers. I just know that this continuing violence, in our schools of all places, that has also spread to churches, theaters, restaurants, that’s everywhere, needs and demands our swift attention. Unless you and I demand it, nothing is going to change. Things need to change!
There’s another ray of hope that is shining bright…
Recently, our son and daughter-in-law shared something about our four-year old grandson that brought joy and hope to our hearts. One of his cousins asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He looked thoughtful for a moment, and replied, “I want to help somebody.”
Imagine what a difference it would make, if we all reared children and grandchildren to not just look for the helpers, but desire to become one themselves. From what I have seen from the youth in this last school, they are choosing to do just that, each one a powerful beam of light shining through this darkness. They are taking the lead. I, for one, will follow.
Bass Mitchell is a writer and minister living in New Market. He is the author of several books, including “God Sightings, In Every Blade of Rustling Grass,” and “Bit Players in the Big Play” He can be contacted at email@example.com.