Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The day after

A woman prays amid the carnage on Boylston Street. Photo: John Tlumacki.

For Boston yesterday, it was like 9/11 all over again.

Shock.  Horror. Disbelief.  That sickening sense of encountering naked human evil, glaring suddenly from a happy crowd on a sunny day.

Yes, the scale was different - only a handful of deaths, and a hundred or so injuries against the thousands on 9/11. But tell that to the family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, the little boy who lingered at the sidewalk to hug his dad as he crossed the finish line.  Today, Martin Richard is dead. And his mother is fighting for her life; his sister is hospitalized.  To his family, like the families of all the victims - many of whom suffered horrific, life-changing injuries - the tragedy is unthinkable in its scale and scope.

And somehow there's an extra twist, isn't there, in targeting a ritual so closely tied to hope, camaraderie, and idealism.  Martin Richard's father worked long and hard to be at the Marathon that day, and his family was there to cheer him on.  I have no illusions about the scrappy underside of the Boston Marathon (although it's certainly no darker than that of the Olympics, or any other large human endeavor).  And I can't pretend I still look forward to its annual appearance on the calendar - indeed, I probably registered a faint irritation with it yesterday morning, as the T was slower and more clogged than usual.  Long gone are the days when I was drawn to the finish line (although for several years, when I was working in the Pru, I would have been found on Patriot's Day very close to the spot where the second bomb went off).

Of course thousands - hundreds of thousands - of Bostonians could say the same thing.  The Marathon is a touchstone of the city, a defining experience, something you have to see while you're here, at least once.  Which is another reason why turning its finish line into a slaughterhouse strikes somehow at the very heart of my hometown - at what's best about it, at what it loves about itself, at what it's proud of, and is worth being proud of.

What happened yesterday was a desperate, sad bid to change all that.  To kill that spirit.  To instill horror and hatred in us, perhaps to excite awe, perhaps to incite revenge, perhaps merely to claim some sort of sick celebrity in the dark circus that our media culture has become.

But all that doesn't matter.  Justice - yes; we must find those who did this dreadful thing, and they must pay. 

But there can be no justice in this world.  That is the most heart-breaking thing about it.  There is no way to make the perps pay enough for there to be justice.  And we can't let ourselves go to the same dark places we wandered after 9/11 - particularly as we don't know whether terrorists (and if so which terrorists?), or some insane "lone wolf," are responsible for this tragedy.

And yes, let's even remember - the deaths of innocents are commonplace in this fallen world. American policy has even been responsible for more than a few.

Martin Richard
But a little boy named Martin Richard had nothing to do with any of that. He was just at the Boston Marathon to hug his dad. I suppose what I'm saying - even as I tear up while I type this - is that we must always remember Martin, and how his young life was snuffed out, and his family so cruelly attacked.

But we must also remember why he was at the Marathon. What it stands for. That we are a City on a Hill - or hope to be.

Martin would have wanted us to remember that.

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