The Boston Marathon is one of my favorite days of the year. And this is because it’s supposed to be a day of celebration, of joy, and of community.
This year, when the Boston Marathon ground to a halt at 2:50, what should have been — and was, to that moment — elation shifted suddenly to panic and fear. The audio from that moment is horrific; a mix of confusion, and pain, and anger surfaces soon after the explosions.
In the hours that followed, as I sat huddled around my laptop with Now Not So Cheerful Boyfriend (who grew up in Boston, has spent most of his life here, and identifies very strongly with the city) and some friends, and watched the same painful footage over and over again to a soundtrack of speculation and ambivalence, we kept coming around to same question: “Why the marathon? What statement is this?” Such excess seemed unmoored from even the most violent political activism; none of us could even guess as to why this would happen. And later, on Thursday night into Friday morning, when this terrible event continued with shootings on MIT’s campus and a stakeout across Watertown, we — and, it seems, is the media — remained baffled. The two young men who have been identified as the bombers — one now dead — were not excessively political, seemed well adjusted, and, with the exception of a couple comments about nationalism, did not seem prone to this kind of violence.
This is, of course, the most slippery of questions. Why leads us inevitably to the idea that there must be a reason for tragedy — and, if we can weed out this reason, we can prevent the same kind of tragedy in the future. Certainly this is true in many cases, but here it seems we may never know (especially if the second bomber meets the same fate as his brother, which I in no way hope).
If I can draw the (almost inevitable and narcissistic) comparison, “why” is also a dangerous question when it comes to cancer. So often we want to locate a reason for suffering and one of the most common questions I get in regards to my cancer is “why do they think it happened?” Well, we don’t know — and that ignorance often breeds anger and frustration. Without knowledge, how do we move forward in a productive, healthy, and joyful way?
Well, here I turn again to the discussions I’ve had about the Boston Marathon events — specifically, my class’ incredibly insightful and elegant discussion on Wednesday. My students — BC undergrads in my Wild West in American Fiction elective — and I spent our Wednesday class discussing the aftermath of the bombing: its effect on our lives, the space of Boston, and our sense of safety in the city. Our conclusion, at the end of class, was this:
Rather than harboring or focusing on the anger, fear, or frustration such an event encourages, and rather than focusing on the “why” that often breeds those emotions, our most important outlet and means of expression is community. Our love for one another, our reaffirmations of the love, support, and energy in our various communities, our community activities that draw us into one another’s lives, are the best retaliations to violence and tragedy we have. A focus on our communities and how we can participate in those communities can help open our eyes to how we can help one another, especially in moments like these when we, as a whole, are fragile.
So even in the midst of the extreme sadness that orbits the city even now, keep your eyes on one another. Find joy and love and celebration in your communities, and nurture it there. It is our only hope.