What can we do? Look for the helpers inside of us

My grandfather’s generation had Pearl Harbor: One huge event that shocked, then enlisted a nation.

My father’s generation had the assassinations of the 1960s, biographical tragedies of slain heroic figures.

We have had 9/11. And Newtown. And now Boston.

Attacks around us, tearing at the fiber of America it seems.

The hardest parts may be the fear, of not knowing where it’s coming from, or who will be hurt, or when; the outrage at attacks on civilians; and the disbelief, that it could be on our soil, in our own hometowns.

They all seem to add up to helplessness.

What can we do? Look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers urged. They are there: the first responders, the volunteers, the neighbors who reach out, the nation united in compassion.

Runners passed the finish line and continued on to the hospital to give blood. Bostonians opened their homes to those in need. New Yorkers furthered their love and compassion to a rival city in ways both public and inspiring.

Online, millions sent their best wishes and concern to Boston. Journalists urged each other the slowness of caution and veracity. Donors texted funds to the Red Cross.

Not knowing what else to do, I realized it was tax day, and sent part of my refund to Limbs For Life in the name of runners who suffered leg injuries. I say this not to brag, but to simply show we can find ways, we must find ways, to answer our challenges of fear and grief with the boundless creativity of goodness.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, a speaker honored his fallen countrymen with these words:

“There is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart.”

Rather than provoking hatred in the midst of a war, Pericles called on all Athenians to look within themselves to cultivate the deeper callings of humility and grace.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working as a wire editor for The Charlotte Observer newspaper in North Carolina. I read many remarkable stories of courage — of everyday people summoning the better angels of their natures.

A security guard in an adjoining building to the Twin Towers suddenly faced hundreds of dazed people stumbling down the stairs to his station. Newsday reported that he went up the stairs into the dust dozens of times to help blinded people down.

Afterward he was asked why he repeatedly risked his life. He said it was because he’d been in prison for some of his son’s childhood, and he wanted to show his boy that he could do something good.

What brings out heroism, or simple compassion, may not be what is strong inside us, but what is doubtful.

We may help because we need to help. We may ache with the vulnerability of the wounded, and heal others to heal ourselves. That counts, too.

Look for the helpers. We may find them in ourselves.