The Beach, the Black Hole and Mr. Rogers

By Dr. Cecilia Miller Marshall, Ph.D., of CareNet Counseling in Winston-Salem

Beach ScenerySeptember 11, 2011. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon at the beach: warm and sunny, miles and miles of white sand, and nothing to do for a whole week but enjoy it. It was time to get in the water!

The wave wasn’t all that big, really. It just hit the wrong way and took my right calf in a direction that nature never intended for joints to go. I knew right away that it wasn’t good; however, it was the first day of our long-awaited vacation, and denial is a wonderful thing! In our family, we believe that ice is a miracle drug, so I remained on the beach for two hours with my knee encased in an ice bag – waiting for it to feel better and look more normal. It didn’t.


After three days in the hospital, a surgical repair, and orders to bear no weight on my right leg for two months, I returned “home” to the beach house – my life dramatically altered. Hobbling on one leg, with the aid of a walker, I required assistance with almost everything. Simply walking from one room to another was exhausting. It was not exactly how I had envisioned my beach vacation and denial wasn’t working anymore. It was time for another skill.

I clearly remember several points in the hospital at which I stared down what I call the “black hole.” In that hole were pain, loss, dependency, financial stress, missed work, missed opportunities, isolation, and fear. The hole was dark and deep, and the slope was slippery. I knew the first time I saw it, that it would take all the skill, courage, heart and hard work I could muster to find another path and stay away from the hole. That’s when I thought of Mr. Rogers . . .

Perhaps my favorite Presbyterian minister besides my husband, Sam, is the late Fred Rogers of PBS’ Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. After the events of September 11, 2001, he wrote a beautiful piece about helping young children cope with trauma. He urged us all to “look for the helpers.” Amidst all the carnage at the World Trade Center were hundreds and hundreds of people making heroic efforts to help others.  To focus on the helpers is to focus on hope. Thank you, Mr. Rogers!

At this writing, I still navigate by wheelchair and walker; take forever to accomplish the simplest tasks; and am very dependent on the kindness both of friends and of strangers. This has been a humbling and life-changing experience. Thanks to Mr. Rogers’ sage advice, I have had many more good moments than bad. Once I got the hang of it, there were so many positive things to focus on – beautiful sunsets, delicious meals (prepared by others!), kind and capable medical professionals, thoughtful and caring co-workers, my sweet and attentive (though somewhat confused) pets, a gentle rain shower, a good book, and a spouse whose energy and generosity knew no bounds. I could go on . . . but space is limited.

The black hole is still out there somewhere, as it is for all of us who face difficult times in life. I don’t worry much about falling in anymore . . . as long as I keep my eyes on the helpers. They’re out there!



Rogers, F. (2005). Helping Children with Scary News. Family Communications, Inc.

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