What can we do to help?

In the aftermath of tragedy, we are left asking questions: Who did this? How did it happen? Why?

But there’s another question asked that, as much as anything, exemplifies the American spirit: What can we do to help?

On Monday, after two bombs exploded at the finish of the Boston Marathon, we saw images of thousands of acts of heroism, big and small. First responders, race volunteers and medical staff, spectators and even other runners rushed to aid those injured in the blast. In the days since, we’ve seen an outpouring of support from around the country.

It’s the same after every catastrophic event, whether natural disasters or human-caused calamity — we, as individuals, a community and a nation, offer what help and support we can, whether it’s professional expertise, volunteer efforts, donations to relief organizations, or a simple prayer.

But we don’t just wait until tragedy strikes to ask that what we can do to help. Indeed, the hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the Boston Marathon route were there to offer support to every one of the 23,000 runners. As one runner told The Associated Press, the marathon crowds are “off the hook,” and there’s many a finisher who has said they found the strength to make it through the course thanks to enthusiastic encouragement from fans along the way.

Beyond an annual sporting event, it brings out the best in each of us when we ask that question — what can we do to help — in our everyday lives. It can be as simple as holding a door for someone with their hands full or helping a neighbor shovel a driveway. It includes all of us who give our money, talent or time to benefit a charity or non-profit. It’s all of us who help out in our local schools or with youth activities. It’s taking on a project that will benefit the community. It’s offering a word of encouragement, a hand up or a shoulder to lean on to someone facing challenges in their life. It’s all those things we do, not for our own benefit, but because we want to make the world around us a better place.

Our hope and prayer is that the times we are called on to offer help after a tragedy are few and far between. But for now, there are plenty of other things, big and small, for which we are more than willing to offer our help.

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