No words

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In the last weeks, we’ve seen bombs. We’ve seen explosions. We’ve seen natural disasters. We’re overwhelmed. Some say there are no words.

But there are, and we have to find them.

Those of us looking from the outside in, feeling the shock and pain of people we don’t even know, owe it to those wracked by the damage. We have to find words that will arrange shelter and organize supplies and rebuild lives. Words like How can I help? What do you need? I’m coming with food. You can stay at my place. I’m coming to clean and rebuild. Here’s my donation. 

We have to offer words of comfort. I’m sorry. I’m praying for you. Let me hold you for a minute. I care.

More importantly, we have to back up those words with meaning and with action.

In times of crisis, words matter more than ever. Whether on the news or in someone’s heart, on a large scale or an individual basis, we can all reach out and make a difference. If you think there are no words, dig deeper.

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Thunder and birdsong

Cardinal_in_the_RainBooming thunder woke me this morning, punctuated by sharp cracks and the rapid-firing report of driving rain. It seemed a fitting follow-up to the previous day’s explosions at the Boston Marathon.

In the middle of nature’s protest, I heard something else. Sheltered by a canopy of budding leaves, a cardinal sat in the tree outside my bedroom window and sang its song. In a thunderstorm. In the dark. How beautiful and unexpected.

My mind went to an anecdote I had heard the prior evening. Fred Rogers, that equanimous purveyor of patience and good manners from my childhood, once said (verified by snopes.com):

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.’

I find that so comforting–and true. Look at any tragedy and you will find people rushing to help. Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, doctors, nurses, and regular Joes (or Janes, if you prefer) move in and make things happen.  As others rush from the scene in justifiable horror, the helpers rush to it. They offer safety, medical attention, and most of all comfort. And they far outnumber the bad guys.

Let’s get this straight. The tragedy in Boston sucks. It’s horrific, terrifying, and inexcusable. It reminds us that evil pulsates throughout the world, and it will rear its head in places where it is least welcome. We must figure out who did it, hold those people accountable, and do our best to protect against it happening again.

But in the aftermath, let’s give the attention to the good. Let’s celebrate the acts of selflessness, the kindness, and the heroism that become equally apparent in these times. Let’s listen for the birdsong in the thunderstorm.

Those are the stories that deserve the spotlight.

Take heart

ImageIn a conference room, educators, administrators, and parents meet at a table. Suddenly, in the midst of their discussion, gunfire erupts nearby. At the moment of recognition, some reflexively dive for cover, while others spring from their seats and head toward danger.

I can’t shake this image.

What makes some people instinctively jump into the fray, even in the face of potential harm? I’d be willing to bet that at the moment of action, not a single person in that room thought about which path she would take. No one weighed the options. No one considered the risks. No one considered what was at stake. In that split second, each person simply reacted. For the first moment, gut instinct was the only driving force.

Please don’t misunderstand; I don’t believe one action was better than another in this case. The people who put themselves in harm’s way died, but they were heroes who tried to save others. The people who sought refuge rejoined relieved and grateful families, sparing them the searing pain of personal loss.  You can’t separate wins from losses in such a situation.

What I’m trying to understand are the reasons people react in such divergent ways.

I’m becoming convinced that in crisis situations, people’s actions are very often the reflexive culmination of their life experiences. Every day is preparation for the next; no action is wasted or forgotten by the psyche. Each one becomes a stone in a person’s foundation. Each one becomes a part of who we are.

If that’s the case, everything I do makes a difference in who I am. When it comes to my moment of truth, I want my foundation to be strong, regardless of whether I face danger or seek shelter.

This changes how I look at everything.

To the women who lost their lives confronting a dangerous man, thank you. Your willingness to stand between others and danger demonstrated courage and selflessness in a way none of us can fathom.

To the people who took refuge, thank you, too. Fewer families will be torn apart by the grief of losing a parent, child, spouse, sibling, or friend. Each spared life is a blessing to all of us; there is enough suffering in the world.