"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.'" — Fred Rogers
Anthony Breznican is a grown man and a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly. Following the recent tragic events in Manchester, England, Breznican remembered the words above, which were said by the beloved children's TV show host. But he also recalled a much more important story about how Fred Rogers helped him through a personal low point in his life.
First, a few words about Rogers. His show, which debuted on PBS in the late 1960s, was called "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," and if you ask anyone over the age of 40, most will likely tell you that they spent some part — if not a significant part — of their childhood in that make-believe world learning about life, kindness and how to be a good person. "Play is really the work of childhood," Rogers famously said, and "knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people." Rogers' show gave comfort and joy to millions of young children up to its final episode in 2001 and still does to many today in reruns, despite his death in 2003.
Breznican loved Mr. Rogers as a kid yet, like most people, stopped watching the show once he reached early adolescence. But by the time he was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, it turned out he needed his TV "neighbor" and friend more than ever.
"I was having a hard time," he wrote as part of a number of tweets that are summarized here in the IndyStar. "The future seemed dark. I was struggling, lonely, dealing with a lot of broken pieces and not adjusting well." Breznican was still reeling over the recent death of his grandfather and was at a very low point in his life. But he was about to have an encounter that lifted him out of his depression. By coincidence, Breznican shared an elevator with Rogers (a Pittsburgh native) and took the opportunity to not only thank the TV host for all he's done, but to also admit that he was going through some hard times himself.
Taking in the stranger's obvious unhappiness, Rogers then did something that most of us wouldn't even think of. Walking off the elevator, he took off his scarf, sat on a nearby window ledge and said "Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you?"
Shocked, and touched, Breznican admitted how upset and lonely he was after his grandfather's passing. Rogers listened patiently and comforted him. He shared a story about his own grandfather. He told Breznican that you'll never stop missing the people you love. He hugged him. He said, "It's good to see you again, neighbor." More importantly, when Breznican apologized for taking up the TV host's time and making him late for an appointment, Rogers just said, "Sometimes you're right where you need to be."
Mr. Rogers made his living from hosting a children's TV show. But he never forgot who his fans are, and he never stopped serving them. Sometimes we get lost in the process of earning a living from our customers and we forget that, regardless of what we do, our jobs are to help and make people's lives (and their businesses, which provide the livelihood for others) better. When was the last time you took a few moments and listened to a customer's problems? Are you right where you need to be too?
A version of this column originally appeared on Inc.com.