I’ve been a fan of Mr. Rogers since I can remember. My mother told me that I used to talk to him when I watched his show (not something that I remember — I must have been a toddler!) — and his gentle, kind demeanor became a blueprint for me of what truly positive masculine energy could be.
There’s been renewed interest in Mr. Rogers lately. Tom Hanks recently played him in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about his life, career, and philosophy came out the year before.
So why I am talking about Mr. Rogers? Because his are the lessons, simply put, that remind us to be our higher selves, even in times of pain and uncertainty; indeed, especially in times of pain and uncertainty. The coronavirus crisis certainly counts as one of those times, and as a result we’ve seen plenty of people, governments, and businesses behaving shamefully out of both fear and ignorance.
All over the world, cases of domestic violence are up as people are essentially locked into small spaces with their abusers. In an eerie echo of conspiracy theorists and science deniers in the United States, one widely watched TV host insisted to the public that the Covid-19 statistics were false and should be ignored.
Healthcare workers, in addition to the high risk to their lives at work, have been attacked in the streets as supposed “disease carriers.” Workers who live day to day aren’t sure how they’re going to survive, the economy is expected to continue its sharp contraction, and criminal gang violence does not seem to have slowed as a result of the pandemic. Though our president has assured the public that there will be enough ventilators for everyone that needs one, many health workers have made it known that they are facing dire shortages of protective equipment for themselves.
Shortage of bad news, there is not.
But as Mr. Rogers reminds us to do during hard times, especially when we’re scared: look for the helpers.
Though we’d certainly have preferred not to face all of this upheaval, there is much goodness to be seen, had, and acted upon. A crisis is a chance for people to show their altruism. It’s a chance to care for others in ways that we often get too busy to think of, much less carry out. It’s a chance to remember our common humanity, and to remember that, though the capitalist zeitgeist of the times says otherwise, we all need each other.
So what’s happening out there that’s good?
Hotel Fénix in Guadalajara pivoted its business to sell and deliver tamales, making extra to donate to health workers and patients’ families. By doing this, they’re keeping their staff employed and helping those in need. The owner has said he will continue doing this even after the crisis has passed.
Taquería los Pastorcitos in Mexico City decided that, despite the struggle to make money, they would simply give tacos away to those in need. They put up a touching banner in front: “It’s not going well for us either, but at least we can give you a few taquitos.”
In my favorite story of the week, unemployed mariachis gathered to serenade hospital workers in Acapulco to show their appreciation for their work (they could have stood a bit farther apart from each other, but still). It was a touching show of affection and solidarity.
In the absence of the normal hustle and bustle of human industry and activity, Mother Nature is also getting a well-deserved moment in the sun, so to speak. This year for Semana Santa, it was the crocodiles that got to enjoy some beach time.
Keep your eye on the regular people who perform both small and large heroic acts every day: the family members who care for children and the elderly, the healthcare workers who continue to go to work everyday despite the very real danger to their own lives, the teachers making an effort to ensure their students keep learning despite the quarantine. The trash collectors keep coming, the supermarket workers continue to report for duty, the bus drivers continue on their routes.
When he sees someone worse off than he is, my dad will say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Despite one’s religious or spiritual beliefs, it’s a good reminder: no human is invincible, and none of us can get through this life without others.
Let’s keep helping each other, and maybe, if we can really keep this basic fact in the front of our minds, we can create something better than what we had before for all of us.
Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.