Emma Samms: When help is always at hand

Illustration by Emma Samms

Illustration by Emma Samms - Credit: Emma Samms

‘The good and heroic people inevitably run towards an incident when everyone else is running away’

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping”. These are the words that American children’s television host Fred Rogers tells children to think of when they see scary things in the news. Those are some very comforting words. They acknowledge that something scary has happened but they focus attention on the positive, the good and heroic people that inevitably run towards an incident when everyone else is running away, people who selflessly put their own safety at risk to offer help and comfort.

I think most of us would agree that 2016 was, at the very least, an interesting year. We’d all be rather pleased for the year ahead to proceed without anything scary happening. No shocking news, no tragedies and, please God, no world-war-three-provoking tweets coming from the White House.

But if there are stressful times ahead, I shall practice Mr Roger’s theory of looking for the helpers. I’ve certainly encountered lots of helpers already in my life. And I treasure them all.

One of the first times someone stepped in to help me when they absolutely didn’t have to was when I was 12 years old, in my second year at The Royal Ballet School and I failed an external and very important ballet exam. As a student at one of the best ballet schools in the world, this was not exactly a good career move. Even at the age of 12, we were all very aware that a quarter to a third of us would not be invited back each year so the pressure was on. The academic staff had no involvement in the ballet side of the school whatsoever but my biology teacher, Susan Segal took it upon herself to be waiting outside the dance studio when I was taking my first class since hearing my exam result. I was the only one in my class to have failed and to say I was demoralised was an understatement. Whilst I had managed to hold it together for the duration of the class, the moment I stepped outside the studio the floodgates opened. Well, they would have done if Mrs Segal wasn’t, totally unexpectedly, there waiting for me. She whisked me into the changing room and then on to my next class, all the while telling me that even though this felt like the end of the world, it most certainly wasn’t. And of course she was right. The unprecedented appearance of an academic teacher on the ballet side of the school, her perfectly-timed thoughtfulness and her kindness that went hugely above and beyond the call of duty that day is something I will never, ever forget.

The Red Cross are the formalised version of the helpers that I’m talking about here. I actually saw them in action after the big earthquake in Los Angeles that I wrote about in my November column. Roads were blocked, water and gas mains switched off and many homes were left dangerously unstable yet within hours, literally HOURS of the earthquake, a small village appeared in one of my local parks. There was food and water, blankets and shelter and the Red Cross volunteers who set it up had all just been through the very same earthquake that the rest of us had, but they had chosen to help others and not themselves. Amazing. Humbling.

On a smaller, but just as crucial, scale are the people in our lives who we can depend upon to say just the right thing to cheer us up, calm us down or console us when we need it. These rare and precious people are the ones who consistently pay attention and therefore know us well enough to get it right. They see through the walls we build up of bravado and pride and somehow make us feel better about the world and ourselves.

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So, if I were to have any sort of a plan for the upcoming year, any resolutions to attempt to adhere to, it would be to look for and allow myself to be comforted by the helpers. And to remember that there are always helpers because there are more good people than bad people in this world. Most importantly, I will aspire to become one of those helpers myself. Running towards the trouble and not away. Because after all the kindness I’ve received, it’s the least I can do.

Follow Emma on Twitter! @EmmaSamms1