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 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT