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Tom Purcell: After Tree of Life tragedy, start with Mister Rogers |

Tom Purcell: After Tree of Life tragedy, start with Mister Rogers

Tom Purcell
| Monday, October 29, 2018 7:03 p.m

Saturday morning is normally my favorite morning of the week.

Usually, I sit in a festive coffee shop near downtown Pittsburgh, working on a novel, a love story, I’m eager to complete.

Saturday morning, I heard police cars and ambulances racing past the coffeehouse — headed, I now know, to the tragic scene at the Tree of Life synagogue just 4 miles away, where innocents were targeted as they worshipped.

It’s the latest in a series of tragedies in which powerful weapons were used to slaughter defenseless people.

My first impulse was incredible sadness. I pray for the victims and their families.

My next impulse was anger. Why aren’t we moving faster to keep weapons out of would-be killers’ hands? Why are too many political leaders, on both sides, so carelessly ginning up anger, even violence, with their poor choice of words?

My anger isn’t unique. But some are exploiting this horrible event to attack political opponents, call them names, even blame them for directly inspiring this apparently unhinged man to come out of the woodwork and strike.

We will never solve this incredible shooting problem — the causes go deep and the solution will require multiple thoughtful actions by many people — if we let it pull us apart rather than bring us together. suggests we heed Mister Rogers’ kind and loving words. I couldn’t agree more.

Ironically, the studio where Fred Rogers recorded “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is only a few neighborhoods away from Tree of Life — making one scratch his head that a place that cultivated so much love and kindness for so many years could be so near a place where such an act of hatred would occur.

Here, from “The World According to Mister Rogers,” is a fine Fred Rogers quote to begin:

“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.’ ”

God bless the courageous police officers who risked their lives to confront the shooter. Four were wounded. Two face long-term recoveries. God bless the many first responders who cared for the wounded. And God bless the hundreds of Pittsburghers who waited in long donation lines well after blood banks’ normal closing hours.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility,” Rogers also said. “It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

We all must never accept the shedding of innocents’ blood as “the new normal.” We all must become heroes and use all the tools available to us — political, scientific, technological, personal — to inform ourselves, escape the narrowness of our political inclinations, bridge our divides and agree on a unified solution that will stop these shootings from being so sickeningly commonplace.

Our work is cut out for us. The only way we will successfully resolve this problem is to ratchet down the angry rhetoric and thoughtfully and intelligently address its complexity.

The first step to success is to follow Mister Rogers’ sage advice:

“There are three ways to ultimate success — The first way is to be kind, the second way to be kind and the third way is to be kind.”

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.”
Visit him on the web at

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at

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