Sometimes you put on a brand new shirt and immediately spill coffee on it. Sometimes you schedule a big outdoor party and it rains cats and dogs all day long. Sometimes a driver gets distracted and rear-ends you on your way to work. Sometimes a loved one gets very sick suddenly and seemingly without explanation. Sometimes a baby is born with significant mental or physical problems. And, sometimes, a psychopath leaves bombs all over a major metropolitan area and sets them to go off in a way that will harm the greatest possible number of people. It’s terrifying to think about, and it’s hard to come to terms with when it happens, but the truth is that sometimes bad things happen, and there’s not much you can do about it.
But then, after those bad things happen, in the next moments and days and years, you have to make a choice. You can let them consume you and turn you into someone who is perpetually upset about things that you will never be able to change or control, or you can try to be a better, stronger person.
I was glued to the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing for most of the day yesterday, and I ran through a range of feelings over the course of that five or six hour period. There was shock as I first flipped on the television, watching the aerial shots of the carnage like they were a scene out of a Roland Emmerich movie. Then there was rage, as I thought of the subhuman monsters who set up explosives in a public area knowing full well what kind of destruction and suffering that decision would lead to. Then there was sadness, as I saw the news that one of the casualties was an 8-year-old child. Then I got a little emotional.
But then I stopped to think about the people who risked their lives to get victims out of the wreckage, and the runners who continued past the finish line and went straight to the hospital to donate blood, and all the very amazing people I follow on Twitter who put aside the snarky jokes for a while and tweeted out updates and hotline numbers and information to help people find shelter, and then I got a little emotional again, this time for a completely different reason. Patton Oswalt touched on this in his Facebook post yesterday, but there are so many good people out there, and we should never forget that. We’ll never be able to completely stop bad things from happening, but we — as individuals and as a group — can go a long way to minimizing their effect.
And do you want to know the best part? You don’t even have to become a first responder or risk bodily harm to do it. I mean, you can, and I hope some of you do, because there are a lot of people like me who are straight-up not equipped to deal with situations like that, but you certainly don’t have to. You can donate time, energy, and resources in other ways, whether by giving blood or volunteering during relief efforts, or whatever. Or, in the case of some of the less serious examples I listed in the first paragraph, you can just, like, not be an asshole. That doesn’t do anything to solve the problem, and if anything it makes it worse because now everyone else has to deal with the grumpy putz standing in the rain and cursing it for being wet. (See also, complaining about crappy news coverage or shock comics telling crappy jokes, which is kind of like picking up a piece of trash that washed up on shore, sticking your stale chewing gum to it, and hucking it back into the ocean.)
Point being: Next time something bad happens, whether it’s something inconsequential like a barista messing up your order, or a horrifying tragedy that results in mass injury and loss of life, ask yourself a question, and do it quickly: Do I want to put more shit into the world, or do I want to focus on making a bad situation better? You always have that choice, and you don’t have to wait for a tragedy to remember it.
Sometimes bad things happen. It’s how we deal with them that’s important.