A Tale of Two Cities

All America has been touched by the horrific events that have rocked our nation recently. I am referring particularly to the bombings surrounding the Boston Marathon, and the explosions in a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Our thoughts and prayers are focused most on those immediately involved who suffered even deeper wounds, physical and emotional — some will be dealing with for the rest of their lives.

Seeing all the horror played out on television, reading about it in the newspapers, hearing first-hand experiences, neither the carnage nor the search for answers were the things that struck me most in either of these two events. Feeling helpless except to pray, I have found other things have stayed with me, and made deeper impressions. For one, the responses of the people present at the time of these tragic events.

In both Boston and West, explosions with enough force to do tremendous damage, killed and maimed many, and shattered lives. In the case of West one explosion had such power that it registered as an earthquake. Yet, following those explosions you can see on tape, or hear first hand accounts, that many of the people who dispersed following the blasts returned quickly to check on those left behind.

I heard one man share how he had just crossed the finish line in Boston as a bomb exploded. He said, “I continued to run, and then I stopped and went back to help.” This man said he had no idea what he would do, but he just had to go back. When he got there he saw people all around him without limbs, and other people holding their heads, blood everywhere, people screaming and crying. He had never seen anything like it, and he knew he had been right in that he didn’t know what to do, he had no training for such a thing, but he could be present, he could be at the side of those suffering, giving hope that people cared, that he cared.

In West the firefighters were engaged in fighting a fire when there was an explosion in which many were killed. To think that these first responders in West were volunteers, as were those who followed, townspeople responding to a need in spite of the threat facing them, shows an element of the human spirit beyond my ability to write in words.

Jesus tells us, ” in St. John’s Gospel 15:12-13., “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.” Who are our friends? Well. We are called to be friends to all people, for Christ’s sake. Those who responded by being present, by engaging with those suffering in Boston and West, those who entered the fray, answered the highest calling “to love your neighbor,” showing and sharing the greatest gift God gives us to bless one another, the gift that “casts out fear, “love.” Many were probably not Christian, or did not react because they thought they ought too, but acted from the heart, to be present for those in need, in crisis. Their reaction showed not the truth of a creed, or the strength of dogma, but the power of love, which comes from God. What a powerful witness. May that same power of love work in us the manifestation of God’s glory, not just in times of crisis and emergency, but in every interaction we have with others — that we may truly be friends for Christ’s sake.

The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.

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