I’ve said that phrase. I’ve written it to those who have experienced death or disaster.
Isn’t it a good phrase? While it’s become a cultural cliché, isn’t it also a true enough and honest enough—but never adequate enough—response when another is hurting?
Thoughts? Please, invite in the agnostics and atheists, along with the cynics and critics. Everyone, even the most self-centered or isolated, thinks about others. Especially when tragedy befalls individuals, groups, or regions, we think about them. Mostly, people wish to share kind, tender thoughts. Often, we have no idea what to say, other than to express some form of hope.
Prayers? In our multitude of faith traditions with dramatically different beliefs, prayer is common ground. One believer may openly pray to “change” the ways of the divine or human subject. Another’s prayer may be expressed silently to “lift up” or “honor” someone. And a third may recite a formal prayer or sacred, ancient text. There are many diverse forms of prayer and praying.
Public events inspire our reactions . . .
An Olympic skater falls and fails. He or she is momentarily in your thoughts and prayers.
A porn star admits to an affair with a public figure. One or both is briefly in your thoughts and prayers.
An ambulance, filled not with the injured but explosives, destroys a busy street in Kabul. Hundreds—men, women, children—are killed and maimed. They are in your thoughts and prayers.
Families, not so different than yours, send their kids off to school where seventeen students and teachers will be murdered before the last bell rings. All of them, the dead and the mourning, the first responders and the hospital’s medical teams, will be center stage in your thoughts and prayers.
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Extending thoughts and prayers to strangers or your beloved, a parent or co-worker, the President of the United States or the homeless guy by the Walmart entrance, seems good.
I could veer into controversial territory: how did you feel about the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida? Is a politician’s thoughts and prayers more a whimper?
What do you think or pray about on issues like abortion or the death penalty?
When immigration makes the headlines, who or what will you be praying for? Or thinking about?
There are many religious, cultural, and political issues that divide, creating camps of “us” and “them.” We are teased and trapped by 24/7 news cycles, with the agony of the world grasped in our hands as we glare at our digital devices. We engage in social media, spending our precious time on earth enthralled with kitten and puppy videos and then, with a casual click, the cute pets are replaced by pornography, a bloody Xbox game, or insulting a Facebook “friend.”
Please, keep them all, the pro-life and pro-choice, the kittens and the oddball digital “friends,” in your thoughts and prayers.
Forget controversy . . . let’s make it personal.
What about a loved one in hospice? Does he or she need your thoughts and prayers?
Please, please, please, you who are a devout Buddhist or Christian, the newly faithful and veteran pew-sitter, keep your dying loved one in your thoughts and prayers. If you are Hindu or agnostic, a wayward Roman Catholic or a cultural Jew, spiritual but not religious, clergy or lay, keep the caregiver of the hospice patient in your thoughts and prayers.
But will you keep your thoughts and prayers only to yourself? If a loved one is a hospice patient or caring for a hospice patient, tell them—to their lovely, hurting faces—that you are thinking about them. That you are praying about them.
There’s more. Why not . . .
- Bring food.
- Mow the lawn or shovel the snow for them.
- Take care of their kids.
- Do the grocery shopping.
- Clean the kitchen and bathroom.
- Leave your car with them while you take theirs to fill it with gas.
I could go on.
Let thoughts and prayer, spoken in the midst of the people you love the most, be what you say and believe. But it should only be a start, a spoken phrase that’s a prelude to next steps.
Maybe you live too far away. Please, text, email, Skype or more—so many choices these days—and make sure they hear from you. Add more. Add yourself. Add something you can do. Something little. Something that helps. Don’t wait to be asked . . . do it. Now.
But wait! What if the hospice patient or caregiver is “merely” a Facebook friend or Twitter follower? Or a co-worker you like but have no idea where he lives or how she spends off-work time?
Your thoughts and prayers will matter to them only if they “hear” it from you. It is the worst kind of cliché if the only person who hears the words is you.
Tell them. Write that Facebook personal message. Send that email. Scrawl that note with the cuddly kitten on the front of the card. People like—and need—to hear from others. People like to know they are in your thoughts and prayers . . . if they really are.
Isn’t it—sorry, Mr. Dickens—the best of phrases and the worst of phrases?
I hope, if you share the phrase, you dare to take meaningful action.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)by