We spent yesterday in a hospital with family. It was all too familiar, except this time we were there for someone else.

With all of our experience there was very little we could do. We have no medical expertise. We can perform no miracles. We cannot make the pain of loss go away.

But still we went. That we could do. And we prayed. And hugged.

We were accosted, annoyed and crowded by strangers. Nurses interrupted prayers and held loud, laughing conversations just outside the door. Doctors held out no hope and impatiently summed up test results. There were papers to be signed by one suddenly responsible for another who could make no legal decisions due to anesthesia. Rings were taken off for surgery and held.

The waiting room was set to meat locker temperatures. News was on the television, as if anyone there really cared what happened in the rest of the world. Conversations distracted from the impossibly slow clock.

It was all familiar.

People were courageous. The horrible day was faced. Outcomes came. Heroes rose to the occasion. Tears were shed. Food was eaten. TV was watched.

It could have been worse. Not the outcome, but the way it was handled. No one got drunk, threw punches or had searing arguments that would never be forgotten. No one was left alone to try to put the pieces of a shattered life back together. No one panicked. No one was sued or arrested.

What could have been worse wasn’t. All because someone was there. Condolences were exchanged. Pain was shared. Notes were written. Facebook messages were posted. Phone calls were made. Prayers were lifted.

It was painful. And it always will be.

It would have been easy to declare, as some of our friends and even pastors declared to Suzie and I during our time of trouble, “I don’t do hospitals.” But we learned the hard way how much it matters. We learned who our true friends were and who we could count on in a pinch. We learned how cold a waiting room can be with no one to share it.

We will never forget the people who drove all night for us, kept our children, shoved money into our hands and ordered us to eat. We will never forget the prayers and advocates and encouragement.

So, here’s a note to myself.

When it hits the fan in the middle of the night, during an important meeting, while a great game is on, when dinner is waiting, in a distant place, when you feel inadequate, cold and helpless, when V.I.P.s are annoyed and it’s all on the line . . . you make a difference.

Be there.