Another terror attack. Another tragic story of lives senselessly ripped apart. Little girls out with their mums on a school-night treat.
Teenagers, bubbling with the joy of a night they had anticipated for weeks. Dads waiting outside to bring their kids home.
The impact of the bombing spreads far wider than those killed or injured. Each of those lives exists within a family, a friendship network, a community. The ripple effects will spread wide and will last for years.
On the same day I learned that a friend overseas had lost her baby. My instinctive response to both events is to want to be there, to drop everything and run towards those who are in pain and…what? What can we do? What can we possibly say? There are no answers. Nothing is going to undo the tragedy and bring back that which has been lost.
Watching the news and recalling similar events, I am struck by the fact that this desire to come together seems to be a universal one. Thousands gathered at the vigil held less than 24 hours after the attack in Manchester, and many more visited the scene to lay flowers, light candles and pay tribute. Embracing and expressing grief alongside others seems both to heighten it and to trigger the start of the healing process. For those of us more distant from the pain it gives us a time and place to appropriately engage with it, then to put it down and carry on. For those in the eye of the storm it expresses, ‘You are not alone. You are right to feel this. You are seen. You are loved.’
And when we’re too far away to sit and weep with those who mourn, there is prayer. That may sound a bit clichéd, but it’s true. Prayer is a way of standing together spiritually, united in love and in Christ. As we pray we experience the comforting presence of God ourselves – he indwells us, so even in the solitude of a quiet space, prayer reminds us we are not alone. And as we pray we can ask God to make that same comforting presence felt to those who are grieving. We can ask him to send them flesh-and-blood community, but we can also trust that he meets them more deeply – and with more love and staying-power – than we ever could.