This picture brings tears to my eyes every time I look at it. When you’ve finished the last paragraph of this blog, please look again at this picture.
I want to share a video that I saw a few weeks ago. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to share it, write something about it. It couldn’t seem more timely and important in light of the heartbreaking event in Connecticut a few weeks back.
“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.”
I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS, almost every day. I enjoyed the show a lot; feeding the fish, seeing what Mr. McFeely would deliver, the trolley to the Land of Make Believe, Picture Picture. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was an immensely soothing show. Nothing over-stimulating, nothing too loud. Mr. Rogers spoke softly and slowly and allowed childhood Jon to listen and really digest what he was saying. He was constantly encouraging our imagination and creativity, and the expression of our feelings, whatever they might be.
I had no idea at the time, and I’ve only just realized it recently, but Mr. Rogers was an incredibly strong proponent of mental healthcare. He cared deeply about caring for children and helping them understand that they were loved, cared for, and understood. He was constantly teaching us to express our feelings, to communicate with others in our worlds, and to not fear being unique. I can’t stress enough how deeply I’m touched by this mission.
I have lived through only a few heavy events in American history: 9/11, Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and others not mentioned. My heart was heavier than all of these when I first heard the news of the Newtown massacre. That’s certainly not to diminish the tragedy of those other events, rather only to say that I felt this one differently than the others. The thought of what transpired in Newtown absolutely breaks my heart. To think of such innocent lives snuffed out in such a vicious manner truly makes me weep. There are several things about this tragedy that make me sad:
1. Twenty children, between the ages of 5-10, were inexplicably murdered. In their elementary school. This is senseless violence. Pure evil. Forty parents learned that Friday that their children had been killed. I don’t have kids and I cannot truly feel the unimaginable horror that these parents and families felt and still are feeling, and it breaks my heart.
2. This could’ve been prevented. With smarter gun control policies and affordable mental healthcare in place, that day might have gone much differently at that elementary school.
3. Even such a heartbreaking catastrophe as the Newtown massacre can’t seem to push this nation past throttling each other’s necks over political issues. I fault people on both sides of the spectrum for this. I find it inappropriate for anyone to talk about needing to arm our children with guns, and equally inappropriate to lambast somebody over being “insensitive” by discussing about political issues at a time like this. If a true discussion can’t be had now, when are we ever supposed to talk about this with openness and a desire to not win the argument, but to solve deeply-rooted societal problems?
My heart breaks for the parents of those children and the families of all the victims of this event. They have been in my sincere prayers over these days and weeks. And yet I firmly believe that the country and the officials in government have to start discussing and coming to a solution on the two root issues that caused this, gun control and mental healthcare. For anyone who says it’s inappropriate to talk politics, I want to quote (of all people) a comedian who, the day of the massacre, tweeted, “Now is not the time to talk about gun control. Yesterday was.” People on all sides of the political spectrum have to be willing to talk about these difficult issues and make compromises to truly find solutions to the immense problems facing our society. The fact that a deranged person can get access to multiple weapons and then walk into a school and murder many innocent people is chilling. It doesn’t matter who you voted for in November, we must figure out how to curb this behavior.
This is where the second issue comes into play. I think it’s overwhelmingly important we start to discuss the mental well being of our children. Kids have to be taught how to express their feelings, how to deal with anger, how to communicate well with their peers and those younger and older. I’m tremendously proud of the work that my wife does with young kids, teaching them “simple” behavioral skills that many people think are second nature but are being taught less and less in homes. I could’ve used behavioral health when I was a kid. I couldn’t communicate well. Or at least I couldn’t express my feelings well. I was a pretty fearful kid and I don’t think that really came out, or at least I didn’t have much chance to get that out and deal with it, from what I remember. And so many children could use these services, to learn how to express emotion, that it’s ok to be angry, or sad, or super happy. That what’s really important is learning how to appropriately give voice to those feelings. So thank you to Colleen, and every parent, social worker, behavioral health specialist, paraeducator/associate, and teacher that understands this and works to educate and raise young children with these skills.
Finally, the Mr. Rogers video. A bit of background: this was in 1969, before Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a popular show on Public Television. President Nixon had proposed scaling back a $20 million grant to PBS to half the amount, due to spending on the Vietnam War. Fred Rogers went before the US Senate Subcommittee on Communications to argue for the full amount. He spoke in front of the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator John Pastore, generally known as kind of a hardass. He comes off as almost patronizing in the clip. Please watch the entire video. It’s only about seven minutes long, and it is truly moving. Fred Rogers had a heart for children, and had a way of coming across calm and reassuring, in this video and when he was on his show. He understood how incredibly vital it is for a child to feel as though they are heard, that they are able to express their feelings, whether it’s anger or happiness or fear. He communicated Love in a world lacking it. I hope I can raise my kids this way, and I hope our country and our world begins to understand that only Love is where the solution to these horrific societal problems lie.