A virtual vigil for Boston

Once news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon hit the Internet, social media sites became flooded with prayers under … Continued

Once news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon hit the Internet, social media sites became flooded with prayers under the hashtag #PrayForBoston with secular groups and individuals offering their support and compassion as well. As the story unfolded this week, Facebook and Twitter continued to serve as online hubs where people gathered to inquire about the safety of those impacted by the bombing and the subsequent shutdown of Boston, as well as seeking out ways they can offer practical assistance and emotional support.

Comedian Patton Oswalt summed up these sentiments in a Facebook posting that went viral.

When you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

A quotation from Presbyterian minister and beloved children’s show host, Fred Rogers shined a lens on the good that can be found in the midst of a tragedy: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” For ways to offer your time and talents, check out this list posted by CNN.

In our need to feel we must “do” something, we must not lose sight that our actions should take into consideration the needs of those directly impacted by the tragedy and not our personal whims. For example, instead of joining the media camping out at the Richards’ hone in search of a sound bite from the man who just lost his son with his wife and daughter injured, why not respect his wish for privacy? Those who feel called to help this family can “like” the News around Dorchester Facebook page for information regarding the actual needs of the Richards and other victims.

As another instance of grassroots outreach using social media in light of this disaster, the Humanist Community at Harvard’s Facebook page lists ways one can help that include contributing to help cover the medical expenses of two members of their community who were seriously injured and making a donation to “Atheists Giving Aid.” According to the We Are Atheism Web site, the goal of Atheists Giving Aid is “to respond in tragedies like this and provide a resource for non-believers (and others) to give money that will make it to the victims and their families without passing through any religious affiliated organizations. You can safely give us your money and know that we attach no religious messages or dogmas to it. We just want to help.” Despite these efforts coupled with the fact that non-theists were among the victims, Greg Epstein, Humanist chaplain at Harvard University and others from the non-theist community were excluded from the Interfaith Service “Healing Our City” that was attended by President Obama along with representatives from the Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

Even though one finds an outpouring of online expressions, we still need the human touch. For example, Harvard and Boston universities hosted two of the many vigils held for those who wanted to gather together in their collective grief with additional vigils scheduled. Along those lines, the day after the Boston marathon, the Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University, saw students along Commonwealth Avenue in front of Marsh Chapel with signs that said ‘free hugs.’ A young woman asked him if he wanted one and he said sure. “It was a simple, compassionate gesture. I have no idea whether they were with a particular faith group–I just know I appreciated their spirit, and could tell that others did as well.”

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