Tragedies happen every day, whether here in the United States or across the world. The tragedies may be small (such as one person shot dead) or mid-sized (such as tens or hundreds killed in a plane crash) or they may be huge (such as thousands killed in a terrorist attack) -- but whatever their size, they are an awful and emotional situation for at least one family.
From the "outside," it can be difficult -- actually impossible -- to know exactly what to do. We watch, dumbfounded, and it's hard not to feel helpless; it's hard not to feel that we must do something. The question is, what?
The latest tragedy is the monster tornado that hit a small town just outside of Oklahoma on Monday, May 20, 2013.
I watched the horror unfold in Moore, Okla., the way many of us do these days: via social media. As soon as I heard even the trickles of news, I immediately started (obsessively) checking Facebook, Twitter and "trending news" on Yahoo online. I got to a television as quickly as I could, and then couldn't stop watching -- my cellphone in one hand, so I could still monitor Facebook, Twitter and "trending news" on Yahoo online. One source was not enough.
I am not alone in being glued to the news when something awful happens. Perhaps it's because we think the outcome will change if we watch; more likely it's because we cannot fathom the horror, and have to watch again and again, ad nauseam, in order to make it real to us.
It is so easy, in this age of incredible Hollywood special effects, to find reality impossible and unbelievable. It's funny, the more special effects become real, the more reality seems false. We watch a movie, thoroughly involved and suspending any disbelief, hooting and hollering at even the horrible scenes -- we watch the news, and stare slack-jawed in horror, mumbling, "It can't be, it can't be."
Tragedy is just that: incomprehensible. It leaves us dumbstruck, wringing our hands, certain we are useless. It is as if we can do nothing more than watch the news, out of some sense of "solidarity"; some sense that just by watching, we are helping -- we are ensuring the tragedy is not lost in the constant hum of nonstop information.
After all, far too many tragedies are lost, whether not covered at all or simply drowned out by the ongoing rush of stories or, self-centeredly, not in our own country. That in and of itself is a tragedy. Unfortunately though, the likelihood of that changing is slim: it is the "local" that we focus on, and the unfathomable that catches our attention; the unbelievable, the bewildering.
(In its special coverage on Tuesday, May 21st, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams opened the show by saying something to the effect of, "There is no place sadder or more destroyed than here tonight..." Ummmmm. With all the wars, famine, pestilence and such going on around the world -- you so sure of that Brian?)
And it is the very unfathomableness, unbelievableness, bewilderingness, that leaves us feeling so helpless. We can give money -- and so many do and immediately did here -- but that still leaves us feeling unsatisfied, with the helplessness a bitter taste still in our mouths. It is why we reach for prayer -- even if we're not the praying type, and may not even know what that means. It is why the hashtag on Twitter for this incident quickly became "#PrayforOklahoma."
Yet just as quickly, the naysayers -- the nattering nabobs of negativity, as U.S. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew put it -- jumped on the hashtag and on the people repeatedly using it, repeatedly saying "pray." Many huffed, "I hope you're actually praying, not just writing it." Many sniffed, "What does prayer have to do with it?" Many snarked, "If God couldn't stop the tornado, what makes you think He can help now?"
All I could think at the time -- all I can think now -- is, "Seriously??? Because prayer is somehow inappropriate right now? Now of all times?" As that's just it: even if one doesn't pray; even if one doesn't truly pray when you write that you are; even, for that matter, if you don't even mean it at all -- this is a case when the thought truly counts.
For (many of) those who are impacted by a tragedy, it can be comforting, meaningful, helpful, reassuring, heartwarming to know that others are praying for them -- even if they are not religious or people who pray themselves. From personal experience, it doesn't even matter if the prayers are not "sincere" -- as I am not going to judge another person's sincerity during these sorts of times. Whether it's just a word or actual spirituality, the point is that another person is thinking of you, is worrying about you, is wishing you the best.
And that matters. A lot.
So when something is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unbelievable, bewildering -- tragic -- do not hesitate to pray. Whether you know how to, or not: pray. Whether you truly do it, or not: pray. Whether you mean it, or not: pray. It will make a difference. Both to you, and to the people you are praying for: It will make a difference.
And that matters. A lot.
Of course, you may (and should) also give money:
Red Cross: Text REDCROSS to 90999
Salvation Army: Text STORM to 80888
And find more options in this article here.
Follow Jana Novak on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Jana__Novak