“Look for the Helpers…”

Being 11 September here in New Zealand — even though the infamous 9/11 happened on 12 September 2001 here — some of my news feeds are showing images and sharing articles about the anniversary of 9/11.

Every year, I feel something different. Having been through our own set of natural disasters — the initial quake occurring a week before the 9th anniversary of 9/11 — something struck me quite strongly today as I saw this image:

Police officer Mike Brennan helps a distraught woman only known as Beverly, as ash and debris cover the area following the collapse of 1 World Trade Center. Photo / Getty / Corey Sipkin

It reminds me of two different things:

The first event it reminds me of was a conversation I had with Noel’s mother Molly in the days after 9/11. She was extremely worried, bordering on frightened, about the prospect of terrorists turning the world upside-down and dragging her off into the night. I understand where she was coming from, as she was older, frail, and no longer able to look after herself fully, and I am sure the sight of a dozen and a bit crazy people crashing commercial airliners into buildings didn’t help her feel any less frail and vulnerable. Plus, she had lived through the horrors of World War 2 in her 20s, even though her life was half a world away from many of the fronts. I’m sure she knew people who died in that war, and I’m sure that distance didn’t buffer the pain and worry she felt at that.

I could have said any number of things, but what came to me was, “You know, there are far more sane people in the world than there are the irrational zealots. Good will always prevail. Just look at all those people who went to help.”

It had the desired effect of calming her down a little.

Years later, I discovered where I potentially heard this before. Mr. Rogers, whose program I watched religiously as a child, once said:

“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.”

And Fred Rogers’s mother was right.

This struck me on my second thought.

During the quakes, especially the 22 February 2011 quake, we saw people, ordinary, everyday people, working beside emergency responders and doctors and nurses and firefighters and police to help.

One image I remember from my personal journey was seeing a man wearing a high-visibility vest standing knee-deep in water released from broken pipes or liquefaction or the land sinking in the quakes or any combination of those, directing traffic. His face was ashen and his motions were robotic as the ground shook and the water sloshed back and forth. As we drove past, I waved a little as a sign of thanks, and while he saw it, his face remained blank, and he returned to focusing on the traffic.

I guess this is very poignant at present with some of my friends and family having faced Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma in the USA. The situation seems dire, yes, and don’t underestimate how that can and will impact you. But please remember that there are always helpers. You may be one yourself. The best you can do is be kind to one another and help as best as you can, whenever and wherever you can. Because we all have the ability to be a hero.