Social media has made it easier for us to find out what's happening around the world virtually as soon as it happens, but it has also increased our feelings of helplessness when something tragic happens, as it did at the Boston Marathon on Monday. From my current home 3,000 miles away in the San Francisco Bay Area, I watched with a broken heart as the capital of my native state suffered the kind of horror no city should ever have to endure. But the sad truth is, acts like these happen all over the world all the time.
Almost as soon as we hear about an act of unimaginable violence, the stories start to pour in of brave, compassionate people running toward danger to help complete strangers, and somehow, our faith in humanity is almost restored. One of the things that's been shared over and over this week is a Facebook post that the comedian Patton Oswalt wrote soon after the event, which included this line: "You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out." Oswalt's point: good people will always outnumber the evil. I truly believe this.
Still, on the day of the tragedy, I watched on social media as so many of my friends out here on the West Coast who have connections to Bostonians expressed a sense of helpless compassion toward our East Coast families both literal and metaphorical. We couldn't be on the ground to help, true, but there are some things we can do besides simply post our sympathies on Facebook. I wanted to share some ways that those far away can help.
Here are a few:
1. Donate money to the Red Cross. Seriously. This is the best thing you can do from afar at a time like this. It might not seem like the most heroic way to help, but it really does help. This is from the Red Cross's response letter to the Boston Marathon tragedy:
This tragedy shows that emergencies can happen in any community at any time. While the Red Cross has all it needs to respond to this event, we do need the public's support to respond to the nearly 70,000 other disasters we handle every year around the country and Boston. If you want to support our work responding to and preparing for future emergencies please make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief at redcross.org.
2. If you prefer not to give to the Red Cross, consider The Salvation Army. They are supporting victims and first responders in Boston with food and supplies.
3. Donate blood to your local Red Cross. This won't help Boston (the Red Cross has actually issued a statement saying they don't need any more blood in Boston right now), but it just might help someone in need in your own area in an emergency. When someone needs blood, they need blood now. Again, from the Red Cross:
The need for blood is constant. Eligible blood and platelet donors across the country are strongly encouraged to schedule an appointment to give in the days and weeks ahead by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or visiting redcrossblood.org.
4. Make sure you are signed up to be an organ donor. You can do this online no matter which state you live in. Right now. For free.
5. Register for a First Aid class or a CPR certification so you are prepared in the event you are ever on the ground during an emergency and in a position to help. I recommend the American Heart Association's trainings and have taken their first aid training myself.
6. Take a minute to read this article on Wired about how to get in touch with loved ones during a disaster. Again, this might not help anyone in Boston right now, but it could help your own friends, loved ones and family in the future.
7. Memorize your friends' and family members' phone numbers and ask them to memorize yours!
Takepart.com put up a great site with some more tangible things you do to help out Boston and Bostonians right now, including information about some specific funds as well as links to track down anyone you are worried about. Check it out.
Moral support and solidarity is so important at times like this. But it's equally important to do something, even if that something is just getting prepared.