“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.”- Fred Rogers
I cannot believe that you are soon going to be entering your double-digit birthday! It seems impossible that you have existed for an entire decade, even though I can’t remember what it felt like before you were here. It’s as if I’ve known you forever. You have been such a blessing.
As you are getting older, you are becoming increasingly more aware of the world around you. I have so enjoyed getting to watch you form your own political opinions, even when your ideas stray from those of my own. During this last year, it probably has not escaped your attention that the world has very alarming news, at times. In this last year alone, you have faced both your Aunt and your Grandfather having cancer, and your other Grandfather having heart issues. You have heard media stories involving gun violence, here in Wisconsin and around the country. You have probably heard adults cautiously warn that the world is “not what it used to be”. It’s important to me that I help you understand something regarding the world.
You will hear people ask, “what is the world coming to?” You will hear people declare that these the evil things happening in the news never happened in the olden days. But don’t be fooled. Don’t allow yourself to believe the evil of the world is winning. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
First of all, as humans, we have to accept the fact that yes, bad people and evil things do exist. They always have, and sadly, they always will. One of the saddest news stories I have ever followed was the Newtown elementary school shooting. I suspect this will be one of the first “flash bulb” memories of your generation. I suspect one day, many years from now, people of your generation will remember where they were and what they were doing the moment they heard of this horrible tragedy. Perhaps this conversation will take place during an anniversary of the day, or maybe the conversation will present itself when another heinous event has occurred. The idea that 27 innocent victims were lost is unbelievable. The fact that 20 of them were children is just unthinkable. Many people felt as though the world might cease to turn with all the destruction and devastation that an event like this manages to highlight. But I would like to remind you…
The fact that 20 children dying in one day is considered a tragedy of this magnitude also serves as proof that our species has made progress. There are still underdeveloped nations in the world where many children die each day while bad men with guns deny them food in the name of power and money. There was a time, not so long ago, when people who claimed to have “pwned” you (or ‘owned’ for us non-gaming old folk) were not referring to mastering a higher video game score. There was a time when Americans were actually allowed to own other men, women and children as slaves and whip and beat them as they’d like. There was a time when children were put to work in fields and abused at random. There have been wars through out our history and entire populations wiped out at the hands of crazed dictators in mass genocides.
Those days are mostly behind us. I hope we never have to know those days again. Despite those atrocities, mankind has become progressively more attune to the value of human life. We are moving ever closer to equal rights and general peace. We are so close to harmony now that when these terrible events occur, they actually seem foreign and world altering. And, perhaps these events are world altering, but not only in the worst ways. With each tear we shed collectively, we gain an ounce of compassion. It is only after terrible tragedies that you see the true beauty of the human spirit. Even in the face of unimaginable horror, as a gunman took aim, brave teachers loved their students enough to attempt to block the bullets with their own bodies. Even as dictators spur words of hate and threaten violence to our country, you will find brave soldiers who don their uniforms and courageously give their lives in the name of perpetuating freedom. When you feel overwhelmed by the body count, look to the shrines built in their honor. Count each of the flames on each of the candles held in vigils. As Mr. Rogers would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Another option that I never want you to forget is that when you are feeling despair, you can become the change in the world that you wish to see. Your voice is strong and you should feel empowered to allow your words to be the voice of reason. Don’t be tempered by the evil, but inspired by the beauty. Aspire to set the bar a little higher when it comes to kindness. Lend your strength and support when you find someone who needs a lift. Never underestimate how small and simple acts of kindness can resonate in ways you might never see.
You’ve told me this year that you hope to be a Navy Seal one day. Though you’ll perhaps change your mind many times before you are grown, you will need to know the beauty of the world many times over in order to be prepared to risk your life for it. I promise you, no matter what evil you are staring down, there are some things worth that fight. You just have to look for them.
I love you so much kiddo. I’ll probably not show you this letter for many years to come, but it will be here waiting when your eyes are ready. Thank you for making it so much easier for me to see the beauty in life. It’s quite a sight to behold.