As the world seems to shift toward a very modern, yet more subtle brand of Armageddon, I’ve been thinking more and more about 1917, Sam Mendes’ 2019 British war epic. World War II overshadowed, perhaps, every war that came before it, but World War I, to quote Plugged In’s film review, “is perhaps unequaled in its horrific brutality.” As I watched the film, I indeed felt horror, but also, in its stunning depictions of the French countryside, joy. And as I pondered this, I realized that Mendes was doing with film what Fred Rogers was able to do with his children’s television series. The subject matter of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, though often dark, tackling everything from death to divorce, always managed to draw joy from its audiences. And 1917, a film about one of the worst years in human history, does the same thing.

As 1917 begins, we very quickly move from the countryside and literally, as the soldiers enter the trenches, descend into hell. We see massive rats living off horse carcasses, bloated bodies damming up a river, literal hellscapes of no man’s land and bombed-out cities blazing on a backdrop of jet black night, but despite this, the film is visually beautiful. Half of it takes place under blossom-laden cherry trees, the French countryside, unmarked fields of wildflowers, and a forest with a lone soldier singing to the men seated in rapt attention around him before they head through the trees and into battle. The mastery of the film is this dichotomy, this inextricable entanglement of beauty, with the horror of World War I.

Much as Fred Rogers had the uncanny ability to make even the darkest of topics manageable with his soft, slow voice and his puppets, Mendes takes the war and zooms out; he shows that the burnt battlefields, the hellscapes, are made out of meadows full of wildflowers and lush forests. We’re forced to look at hell, but we’re also forced, by the cinematography, to see everything surrounding it, and the focus is constantly shifting this way, pulling us out of the death and destruction. Mendes will put forth the effort to center a single flower at the bottom of his shot as a man is dying on screen just above it. Much like Fred Rogers used puppets to explain things like assassinations, Mendes uses beauty to get us through war.

Oftentimes, we attempt to compartmentalize horror and beauty because they seem so diametrically opposed. And when we look at the beautiful things, we have a tendency to feel as though we’re ignoring the horror, and that evokes a guilty feeling, to ignore others’ pain. But it’s a nonsensical guilt because here these two things are, as Mendes and Fred Rogers remind us, inseparable, just as they are in our own world.

As humans, to see just the awfulness all the time, makes our world unbearable. 1917, a film about an unbearably awful war, is beautiful, even after everything these men have been through, and that beauty makes it bearable. The film ends with one soldier walking out to a field, sitting to face the countryside, and drifting off to sleep because that’s what he has to do to keep going. Like the men in the film, we can’t focus on the trenches all the time or we’ll lose our minds. We have to be able to see the beauty we unintentionally overlook in every situation. We have to be able to, as Fred Rogers so famously told us, “look for the helpers.”

Like Mendes surrounds death with nature’s beauty, Fred Rogers tackled the darkest of topics by surrounding us with his saintly demeanor as Mr. Rogers. An ordained minster, Fred Rogers spent his life serving children through the medium of television because, according to Rogers, “the world is not always a kind place,” and that’s something that children “really need our help to understand.” The show began airing on PBS in 1968, the year America lost Martin Luther King, Jr., but also the year Bobby Kennedy was assassinated on live television. Rogers, as I assume any public figure in that moment would, decided to respond. However, he didn’t do this in a news interview, or a private statement, but with his tiger puppet, Daniel, on his children’s show.

The segment perplexingly began with a balloon, Daniel asking Lady Aberlin to blow it up and let the air out. He then asked where Lady Aberlin’s air went when she blew out, and why she didn’t deflate like the balloon did. What Daniel was subtly asking, and what many children were quietly thinking was: when the air is let out of a person, is that how they die? Then, in perhaps the most astounding moment in children’s television, Daniel posed the question “What does assassination mean?” And Lady Aberlin told him because the situation is so much scarier when a child has to wonder if death is as easy as a balloon losing air.

Back in his television house, Fred Rogers donned not a sweater but a suit, clearly speaking to adults, and explained to them how damaging it was for a child to see graphic things on television, things they don’t have the ability to comprehend, and he pleaded with parents to protect their children because, “There is just so much a very young child can take without it being overwhelming.”

Today, I wonder if any station would air such a segment, but as shocking as that episode was, it wasn’t unique. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood covered every possible topic, from assassination to divorce to racism, and when the country faced 9/11, PBS turned once again to Fred Rogers to somehow explain a national tragedy, not only to children, but to all of us, and show us how to cope. In moments of our greatest pain, for more than 30 years, America turned to Fred Rogers.

And the reason for this, I think, is best described by the man himself: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would tell me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Mr. Rogers was our helper for decades. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what Mr. Rogers would tell us if he were here now. When I was watching how Sam Mendes presented the horrors of World War I, I felt like I was being given Mr. Rogers’ advice and being told how to cope with this reality we’re living in now.

When I see people across the globe dying, and doctors and nurses afraid because they don’t have basic protective equipment, and leaders who don’t care, and the hopelessness of people who feel that they have no one, I step back and “look for the helpers.” People are using their 3D printers to make face shields and parts for ventilators; they’re finding N95 masks in their garages and donating them to doctors and nurses that don’t have any. Red states and blue states are becoming the United States for the first time in decades because they have to. And that is beautiful.

We can think about the terrible things that will happen, or look at the good things happening now, at the helpers, and the trees coming out, and the wildflowers blooming, and not lose our minds over how crazy and messed up the world is. Because the world is always going to be crazy and messed up. Being human means finding ways to live inside that, to step back and find ways of dealing with our feelings, rather than trying to bottle them up into rage at what the world is always going to be. That’s what Mr. Rogers did for us, he reminded us to take a deep breath and look for the helpers, because yes, there’s just so much a very young child can take, but there’s just so much any of us can take. To quote the fictional, but no less inspiring Newt Scamander, “Worrying means you suffer twice,” and to worry about all the terrible things makes this reality unbearable.

This world has so much goodness in it; we’ve just got to be able to look for it, and not feel guilty looking for it, because that’s what makes us human: to get past the horrors of this world and live. So in the face of hopelessness and fear, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”