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When I was younger, I used to stay away from people who were very sick, very distraught, or very just-about-anything-else. I used to tell myself that what they probably really wanted was space, not someone like me on their doorstep to bother them. While that may have been the case for some, I imagine I applied that assumption far too liberally, and to a good number of people who would have been happy to see someone -- anyone -- just show up for an hour or two.
It's not that I couldn't deal with the reality of human suffering. It was that if I did go to see someone who was ill, dying, grieving, or facing a serious issue of some kind, I thought that I would have to come up with something to say. And I couldn't. I would think about calling, pick up the phone, and then hang it up because I was at a complete loss for words.
In more recent years, I've realized that I was right: nothing I could say to someone who was suffering would ever be enough. Not enough to relieve pain; not enough to end a struggle; not enough to give someone that one missing piece of hope or wisdom that could see them through it. But I've also recognized that I was wrong: being with someone who's suffering is enough. When there are no words, silence -- as long as it is infused with presence -- is sufficient.
Knowing we are not alone is one of the most powerful things that can be offered to us. That is why the last words of Jesus as he ascended into heaven were, "I am with you always." As hard as it is to grasp, God wasn't absent from the streets of Boston on Monday afternoon. He was there, at the finish line. And while it is difficult to understand why God doesn't keep such terrible things from happening, it is equally challenging to understand why human beings seem so bent on perpetuating them.
Why indeed. The questions seem to multiply with each passing day. Who did this? How was it done? And again, why? Why would anyone target innocent people at a peaceful civic event? But there are deeper questions too. Are more attacks being planned? How many more of them will occur? How do we catch terrorists before they are able to strike? What do we do with them after we catch them? How do we pursue justice without violating its principles?
The violence and terror at the Boston Marathon left most of us speechless and without answers. After all, what do you say to a family whose child is irreparably injured in a terrorist attack? (Maybe, "I'm here.") How do we begin to talk with people who were there, people who were traumatized by the explosion, the blood, the screams? (How about, "I don't know what to say.") But if we have few words to offer to the victims of finish line bombs, we ought to show up and offer what we can: our prayers, our presence, our promise to be there for them, and even more, with them.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.