It was a ritual that I developed while moving on from tragedy in other people’s lives: I would find a quiet spot, close my eyes, clear everything out except the people whom I had just met–living or dead, and acknowledge their presence in the world and in my life. I didn’t have a name for what I did, but “thoughts and prayers” pretty much summed it up. I never did it thinking that I would somehow lessen the pain felt by the people I was called to help–I knew that nothing I did would achieve that. I did it because it made me feel better.
Now that my response to mass shootings, senseless acts of violence, and horrible twists of fate no longer involves my physical presence, I no longer feel the need to sort things out or make myself feel better. I do, however, still take a moment to silently process whatever it is that provoked feelings of rage, helplessness, revenge, and pity. Sometimes I am even moved to offer thoughts and prayers on my social media feeds, hoping that some power greater than myself understands the helplessness felt by people like me who are far removed from the actual event but are affected nonetheless.
I’m not sure if my life experience as a firefighter makes me more sensitive to the despair that accompanies sudden death or if I understand the importance of connecting with humanity following such events any more than the people who see it on the news, but I suspect that we all feel the same, or at least a similar, need to offer something to the victims. Most of the time, thoughts and prayers are the best we can do. I may be a tiny part of whatever bigger plan there is, but as tiny as that part may be, it is not insignificant. That I do not feel the need to send checks to flood victims or supplies to hurricane survivors or do more for the people whose lives were shattered by the latest mass shooting does not make my thoughts and prayers worthless.
All I can do is hope that popular trends such as ridiculing offering thoughts and prayers run their course and that common sense and decency return to us. We are now connected with each other like no other time in history. We can use that connectivity to offer thoughts of healing, prayers for peace, and the promotion of understanding our differences while embracing the humanity we all share, or we can further isolate ourselves and deny the power that good will and positivity create. I’ll continue making my small corner of the world the best place I can while offering thoughts and prayers to people whose horrific circumstances brought them to the rest of the world’s attention.