“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.”
– Fred Rogers
A couple weeks ago there was a death in our little community. An otherwise healthy young man had a massive heart attack just days after his eighteenth birthday. It’s devastating to many. We were nearby when it happened. The sirens got louder and louder as the ambulances arrived. We passed the scene in our mini van and I thought, “I hope it’s something small like a broken nose or dehydration.” Five minutes later my husband’s cell phone rang and all I heard was, “Yes sir. I’ll be right there.” He dropped me and the kids at home, drove away, and didn’t come home until 1am.
My husband is a helper. As Chaplain, when tragedy strikes our school he is at the epicenter of it all. There are many evenings he walks through the door carrying a heavy load. When I ask him how his day went he tells me things like, “I had to pull a kid out of class today to tell him his little sister was in a terrible car accident.” Or, “A cadet’s father died of cancer this morning – I need to give him a ride to the airport in the morning.”
When he is at work he is strong and compassionate. His voice offers comfort and his presence and counseling help others process trauma and grief. He is a helper, yes, but the helpers carry pieces of that sorrow with them. Because he doesn’t sit there unaffected when he has to pull someone from class to notify them of a death. He isn’t untouched when a young man collapses into his arms in tears after a horribly traumatic experience. These things break his heart.
And he’s not the only one.
The first-responders are grief stricken when someone dies in their arms. The nursing staff is heartbroken when a baby dies in his parent’s arms. The police officers carry images in their minds that we can’t fathom. The fire fighters are overwhelmed with sorrow for the family who just lost everything. The pastors and counselors are burdened for the people they love who tell them traumas and secrets… looking for hope and guidance.
So who helps the helpers? Because, friends, the helpers need help too. They need support and love and compassion, too. The answer is simple: us. We help the helpers. Because this world only works if we all become helpers and lean on one another.
A friend shared this beautiful illustration in a sermon last week. Redwood trees are the tallest trees on earth, reaching over 300 feet in height. So one would assume that they have extremely deep root systems to support them, right? Wrong. The redwoods roots only go 6-12 feet deep. So where do they get the support and strength to stand through storms and earthquakes? Instead of roots diving deep into the ground, the redwood trees extend their roots wide – more than 50 feet from their trunk. And they live in groves, intertwining their roots with the other redwoods in the grove. In other words – they hold each other up and depend on one another to stand through the tough elements. The tallest tree in the grove is connected to the smallest.
And that’s how people work too. We rely on each other for strength and we can’t do hard things alone. Sometimes we are the helpers and sometimes we need help. But often it’s both/and rather than either/or. Most often we are pouring out while being poured into. So while my husband is giving himself to others during the day, he comes home to share his heart with me and I let him process his day. Then the next morning I sit with a friend over coffee. And when she has a baby I bring over dinner. And another friend takes my kids so I can support my husband through a memorial service, and a neighbor delivers an apple crisp to our porch that evening. And then someone has a death in the family and we send a care package and sit on the phone and listen. And a soldier is deployed so we mow his family’s yard and bring his wife a meal and babysit the children. And a horrible shooting happens on yet another campus and we weep and light a candle and send prayers and letters and call for change on it goes…
So when we talk about the helpers we need to know that we are all a part of that. We are all helpers, and we all have a role to play in the best times and in the hardest times.