Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

In Boston, 'look for the helpers'

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 5:43 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Mr. Rogers quote was widely shared on Twitter on Monday
  • After tragedy, he says, we should "look for the helpers"
  • John Sutter: That message is resonant following the Boston bombing
  • He says all of us are geared to help, and the bombing response shows that

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a human rights and social change columnist at CNN Opinion. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com or follow him on Twitter (@jdsutter), Facebook or Google+.

(CNN) -- This may be a week of skeptical glances.

When I took the subway home on Monday night, after watching news that three people died and more than 100 were injured in a terror attack in Boston, I looked around at crowds and fellow passengers in Atlanta with an unfair twinge of suspicion. It's difficult not to let events like this impact your patterns of thinking. It's sometimes hard to do what The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg suggests: to keep calm and carry on.

That used to be easy, before Oklahoma City, where I'm from, and before 9/11. Then it was more difficult. And just when it seemed like "terror" was a word that we could use with a sense of distance and irony -- and a concept we watched play out in films like "Zero Dark Thirty" and not in our communities -- our collective sense of security threatened to evaporate again, after two explosions hit the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

We are left searching for answers and perpetrators. Families are mourning those who died and praying for those who lost limbs and were severely injured.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

I think it's because of all this uncertainty and soul-searching that a quote from America's lullaby-voiced comforter, Mr. Rogers. bounced all over my Twitter feed on Monday afternoon, getting retweeted in various forms by thousands.

"I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Leave it to a former kids' TV host to give America its moral compass.

iReport: Bostonians rush to support stranded visitors

Right now, as the authorities try to figure out who did this and why, what the rest of us can do is take a moment to focus on the humanity that followed the tragedy.

Doing so will remind us that America is bigger and stronger than these events -- that we don't have to let fear change us as it has before.

Jared Keller, a native Bostonian and director of social media for Bloomberg News, compiled a short but powerful list of the helpers in Boston. Among them were people who ran toward the site of the explosion -- rather than away from it -- to try to help the people who were injured. They were marathoners who "kept running, all the way to Massachusetts General Hospital, to give blood" after the blasts went off. They were, of course, the police officers and other first responders who were photographed in numerous courageous and selfless acts, including carrying this small person away from the scene. "Many were fleeing," wrote David Abel from the Boston Globe, "but many were running to the wounded. They ripped down the metal barriers separating the runners from spectators. Unsure of whether there would be another explosion, these strangers risked their lives to help other strangers, performing CPR, comforting those in shock, and carrying the wounded to the nearby medical tent."

Andrea Catalano, a freelance photographer, shot this photo about a mile from the Boston Marathon finish line. He wanted to capture the outpouring of support from spectators and people in the area, comforting and assisting runners.
Andrea Catalano, a freelance photographer, shot this photo about a mile from the Boston Marathon finish line. He wanted to capture the outpouring of support from spectators and people in the area, comforting and assisting runners.
Among the chaos, kindness emerges
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
Among the chaos, kindness emerges Among the chaos, kindness emerges
8-year-old killed in Boston bombing
Boston witness: It was a war zone
Boston remembers the bombing victims

Others protected each other during the explosion.

Dr. Allan Panter treated victims at the site of the explosion, according to CNN's live blog. "I saw at least six to seven people down next to me," he said. "They protected me from the blast. One lady expired. One gentleman lost both his (lower) limbs."

They were runners who offered jackets to each other. And they included a photographer who walked through pools of blood to try to capture the horror and humanity of the scene, all while holding back tears of his own.

Outside that northeastern city, they were technologists who scrambled to publish tools to help relatives find their loved ones and to help stranded visitors find a safe place to stay the night. They were joggers who hit the streets in their own neighborhoods even though the blast may have shaken them up.

On Monday night, Dan Conley, Suffolk County's district attorney, took the microphone at a news conference and put words to these sentiments.

"It was a large and disturbing scene. Like each of you I am praying for the victims and their loved ones. It is a terrible, terrible day for them," he said. "Seconds after those bombs went off we saw civilians running to help the victims right alongside members of the Boston Police Department and Boston EMS. And in the hours that followed police and medical personnel from across the region have sent dozens, maybe even hundreds, of volunteers to help us here in Boston.

"That's what Americans do in times of crisis. We come together and we help one another. Moments like these, terrible as they are, don't show our weakness, they show our strength."

That was true in Oklahoma City and New York. It was true in Norway, where people responded to a 2011 massacre by gathering around an Oslo courthouse to sing.

And it's certainly true of Boston.

"Moments like this, and our response to them," Conley said in another press conference on Tuesday morning, "define who we are."

It's understandable to be shocked by these events and to be a little wary in the hours after tragedy. But as the "helpers" in the wake of the Boston bombing reminded me, we are more the same than different, and more good than evil.

We're all geared to be helpers.

And that's who we'll continue to be.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT