When the Unthinkable Happens

 

sneakersI have known my whole life that the unthinkable can happen at any instant. That planes can fall out of the sky and change your life forever. When friends say, “Oh, THAT will never happen, we don’t need to worry about THAT.” Whatever THAT is at the time, I have to stop myself from pulling out headline after headline that prove the opposite. THAT happens every day. One of those headlines contains the name of my sister.

And, now another tragedy. Innocent lives lost in a senseless act. Reforming a vision of a perfect day of athletes celebrating their accomplishments, of families cheering them on, of children beaming proudly at their parents, parents awed by the strength and determination of their offspring to complete the grueling 26 mile run in Boston. One small boy hugging his father one instant, gone from this earth the next. Unthinkable. And yet.

To many today, this is a shock out of all proportion. To others, a club of sorts of recalcitrant members who have themselves been touched by tragedy, it is all too familiar. They may nod in recognition at the faces of those affronted by the most recent event. The injured, the bereaved, the panic-stricken. “We know,” they say to themselves. “We know what comes next, and our hearts break for you.”

Some of us want to help, but are not sure how. Some of us don’t want to let on how hard we know the next days, months, years might be for those affected. And, some use whatever skills we have to try to bring comfort. Because we also know that understanding can be like a warm blanket, keeping cold reality at bay.

How do we go on in the face of realizing, as I have come to, that anything can happen? Whether you believe in God’s plan that includes these kinds of atrocities, or you question whether he has turned his back, or if he exists at all—there comes a time when you have to grapple with random acts of evil, accident or nature.

We can turn our attention to all the good people who rushed to help the injured. All those runners, running again to donate blood even after a day of physical and emotional exhaustion. The doctors and nurses who saved lives and are, even now, treating the injured.  We can be thankful, as the news reports stress, that the bombs were not bigger and didn’t take out whole city blocks.

Ultimately, we can also realize that each day we are given is a gift. Each hug of our child, or any child, is to be cherished; each kiss from our beloved to be savored. Every day that we find peace, that our loved ones are safe and well, is a good day.

Prayers for the families who have lost loved ones, for all those injured in Boston.

 

(This post also appears on my Psychology Today blog.)