Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

In Boston, 'look for the helpers'

By John D. Sutter, CNN
April 17, 2013 -- Updated 0943 GMT (1743 HKT)
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
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT