I recently saw Won’t You Be my Neighbor, the biopic movie about Fred Rogers. Like many who viewed it, I found the film very moving, particularly in the way it conveys the importance of simple goodness in our lives.
One of the most poignant parts of the film was when Rogers spoke about the advice his mother gave him to assuage his own fears as a child: “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.’”
This reminded me of helpers in my life, including the book group friends I’ve known for 25 years. While we come from different backgrounds, religions and professional experiences, each person in the group has a special way of giving goodness to the world.
When we started out, many of us were young mothers, most working at least part-time while raising children. We swapped stories as friends do: tricks of childrearing; school joys and problems, what we heard in carpool from the kids, and how tired we were. We also used to talk about politics—and still do.
I imagine our stories are similar to many book group experiences. We have had our share of loss, illness, divorce and the like. But we are all strong, fun-loving, hard-working women who have had meaningful careers. Our members include journalists, lawyers, writers, non-profit executives, industry consultants and educators.
Over time, the kids grew and we became empty nesters. Some relationships thrived, others did not; parents, siblings, spouses and friends died. Through it all, we applauded and comforted each other with love and kindness. I recall those years with the fondest of memories and know how much we all enjoyed seeing each other every month—even if we didn’t like the book.
Now, as older adults, many of us have retired. Members of the book group are reinventing themselves using the skills and passions gained through many years of professional and life experiences. I compare this book group to the stories shared by Mr. Rogers because these women are outstanding examples of goodness, at every age.
While this list doesn’t cover all the activities my book group performs, some of their good work includes: supporting immigrants who are settling in Denver; advocating for children and families in the courts; initiating and participating in teen mentorship programs at East and George Washington high schools; advocating for those with Alzheimer’s disease; supporting social workers and nutritionists at Planned Parenthood who help pregnant Medicaid mothers have healthy babies; volunteering for Habitat for Humanity; educating people about advanced directives and other end-of-life issues; helping middle school students stay on track for high school and college; assisting high school students with college applications; volunteering at Denver Hospice while pursuing a Masters of Theology. And, just about everyone is involved in making change regarding current political issues and elections.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor also explored Mr. Roger’s efforts to help viewers believe in their ability to bring goodness into the world. He emphasized that each individual has that power. Watching the film, I realized that I look to my book group for inspiration about things that really matter. I am so proud of the positive energy and assistance we bring to our communities.
In these troubled times, it is especially important that caring people continue to show kindness to everyone. Thoughtfulness and empathy can reach beyond our immediate circle of friends and family to include all the people in our neighborhood—people who are like us and people who are different. We need to spread goodness far and wide; the members of my book group are tirelessly dedicated to that work.