There’s a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot of lately. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.” I hear that same phrase during any major disaster or massacre. Sometimes it seems almost obscene how readily people thrust themselves in front of the camera to utter those words. It has sadly become almost clichéd.
I don’t say this to be critical or unfeeling. I know that even the clumsiest of these attempts is heartfelt and well-meaning. During a time of trauma people have a general tendency to sympathize with victims and anyone else affected by a tragedy. There’s really little else most of us can do. I am across the country from Boston and I have no way of providing any substantive assistance to anybody there. As a matter of fact, they probably have so many people in the area anxious to help that I would be nothing but a fifth wheel.
That phrase carries with it a few things. This first is the aforementioned sympathy. Who can look upon such destruction and not feel something? I can only imagine competing in a grueling marathon only to have my supportive loved ones harmed in a senseless act of destruction. The pain and suffering and sorrow would probably be a near-impossible burden to bear. It is an event that refocuses our eyes with sobriety on the terrible toll of human suffering enacted every day by the malicious or negligent among us.
The second thing that phrase evokes is a sense of frustration. Thoughts, no matter how fervent, will do nothing to help anybody affected by this tragedy in any substantive way, except for those who might possess the power of telekinesis. Prayers could be said to be helpful, but their benefit is nebulous at best. They certainly don’t hurt, but the real power to help these people lies with those who are physically near the victims and their families and who have the training or ability to provide benefit. I have to face it – as much as I’d like to be Johnny-on-the-spot during these tragedies, I am forever relegated to the role of spectator.
In fact, acts of terror like the Boston incident tend to remind us all too well how helpless we truly are. One of the striking realizations is how many security personnel were in the immediate area. They were so close that they were already congregating on the victims in the matter of seconds between the two bomb blasts. I have heard of no egregious lapses in security. What could they have done, after all? Without giving up a frightening amount of freedoms, attacks like that probably can’t be completely avoided. It’s scary to think about. Terrorists aim to strike fear into the hearts of their victims and to demoralize them. Sometimes it seems like their tactics are effective and the evil worshippers of death and destruction are winning.
But then I look at the people involved in these incidents. I see terrified people, sure, but I also see people running to the place where a bomb just exploded without thought of their own safety. I see people who are undoubtedly dehydrated and exhausted from running a marathon digging deep and thinking nothing of themselves and wholly of those who stand in need of help. And I realize after seeing those images that they, like the phrase I mentioned, are also something I have seen over and over again. Only this isn’t clichéd. This is humanity at its strongest.
How many heroes have emerged from tragedies? How many people’s first instinct is to run toward the bomb blast and pull debris off of victims, or to dash up the steps of a burning skyscraper that’s in danger of falling apart? How many people who might otherwise flip someone the bird for cutting them off would claw and scratch until those same fingers were bloody and bruised in order to save a total stranger who is buried in rubble? How many mild-mannered businessmen would tackle an armed hijacker on a plane, or throw themselves in front of a child to take a bullet? There has never been a tragedy that I have witnessed that hasn’t produced far more heroes than victims. When I see people extending their thoughts and prayers, I see people who desperately wish that they could be there, doing something, getting their hands dirty, just to be of assistance to people they don’t know from Adam.
What I see is the opposite of demoralization. If these wastes of skin wish to break the will of the people they attack, they are doing a piss-poor job of it.