It's easy to get angry and emotional about the horrific events at the Boston Marathon. In the immediate aftermath of the blasts that killed three and injured more than 140 people, the temptation to seek answers, to find someone to blame, some way to explain a senseless act of violence, often overrules our ability to be compassionate, helpful and empathic.
It sounds impossibly naïve and callous to simply put feelings aside when faced with a torrent of gore-soaked photos and eye-popping footage. To a runner -- something I will never be -- a marathon is sacred, a celebration of spirit, testing the limits of physical endurance and the triumph of discipline over pain. For this event to be so terribly marred is a travesty that would naturally sadden and anger many of us.
I admit, I am not a rational person when I am emotional. When I encounter stressful situations, I tend to wish the worst upon the perpetrators. Then I think about all the terrible things in life and I deepen my hate, compacting my animosity into a little ball of pent-up aggression that eats at me and leaks out at the most inappropriate times. I wear my rage like a second skin because it protects me from all the sadness in the world.
Every time a tragedy like this happens, I get mad. The five stages of grief are more like two: rage and sadness. It's easy for me in a situation like this to point fingers, to speculate, to look for a reason to unleash my hate. I do it because I can't stand to be afraid.
It doesn't help, though. I know this because when I lie awake at night, praying for the victims and their families, I can do absolutely nothing with rage and hatred. It just festers uselessly.
We are a people capable of great deeds, as well as terrible ones. But some of our greatest deeds -- and the stories that endure -- have been those that transcend tragedy and hatred. They are often the simplest acts expressing love, patience, compassion, bravery and selflessness.
In this troubled time, we must dig deeper, past fear and anger, and instead of acting on aggression or grief, seek out ways to help soothe and comfort rather than inflame. To be helpful rather than harmful.
I am not asking people to put aside all emotions -- that would be impossible. But in the wake of this tragedy, before you ask "who's to blame?" ask instead: "How can I help?"
Here are some ways to help:
• Don't retweet or spread information without checking the validity of the source first. It's too easy to simply hit send or RT without verifying facts.
• Donate blood. Wherever you are, blood saves lives.
• Seek counseling for yourself or others if needed. Compassion is for you, too.
• Sign up to be an organ donor.
• Offer support to those in need. Shelter, food, clothing, even minor first aid.
• Volunteer to help clean-up.
• Hug your loved ones.
• If you can't help, stay out of the way and instead, organize ways you can help in the days to come.
Vicki Essex is a writer in Toronto, Canada. You can find her at www.vickiessex.com.