There was a shooting in Arizona today. This in itself would make the news under the right circumstances, but when the shooting happened at a town hall and one of the wounded was Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the event became national headline news. CNN, NPR, and Reuters all initially reported that Representative Giffords was dead from a gunshot wound but retracted when reports came out that she was still alive. Of course, people on the Internet tweeted this out before the news outlets could correct their error (including me), showing how quickly news moves in the information age.
However, six people were killed in the shooting, including a federal judge, one of Giffords’ aides, and a nine-year-old girl who had just gotten elected to student council at her school. There is a lot of supposed prayer going on for those lost and their families, which I notice primarily when people die. People don’t say “Keep them in your thoughts and prayers” as often as they say “Keep them in your prayers”, although the intent is sometimes the same. Out of all the statements I’ve read today, not a single one included a mention of thoughts as separate from prayers. Saying you’ll keep the affected people in your thoughts sometimes sounds less meaningful when speaking to someone who does pray, and when someone asks to pray for someone or something during a hard time, saying that you don’t pray sounds, well, harsh. It may have to be said at some point, but not when the affected person is already sad. I’ve made this mistake several times to people who take it personally. So what does one say in this situation?