Reflections on the Boston Marathon Tragedy

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of violence contained in this blog post (sans images).

What happened yesterday at the Boston Marathon was undeniably a tragedy. Senseless loss of life and destruction at any time and in any place is tragic, as it rips through the hearts of loved ones, collapses our sense of security, defies all logic, and blights our faith in humanity. It has left many traumatized with physical, emotional, and psychological scars and wounds that will remain for life.

I was away from an internet connection from 1:30 until 6:30 Boston-time, so I didn’t find out about the explosions until long after they had taken place. What followed was an immediate panic, and a feeling of disconnect from friends and loved ones previously foreign in this age of constant communication and contact. Even after I had scoured Facebook and came to the conclusion that everyone I know in Boston was alive and safe—if still shaken and upset and scared and feeling a whole host of other emotions—I still could not rest easy. I forced myself to go to my dance class, even though all I wanted to do for the rest of the night was to “be” with my friends, to “be” with my alma mater, to “be” with my city in this time of confusion and pain. Even after class and after making dinner, I couldn’t take my mind off of what had happened, my thoughts churning through dozens of possible political, social, psychological, religious, historical, and philosophical theories that could explain how the world had sank into this sad, sad state.

Despite needing to wake up at 6:30am to teach, I didn’t couldn’t get to bed until 2am.

It was the worst I’d slept in years.

And so, like so many others, I’ve turned to writing down my thoughts as a way to sort through them. As a way to process what others have said. In the (possibly presumptuous) hope that maybe something I say will help others who were closer to the tragedy and are relying on the words of others to help understand their pain and turmoil. What follows is not an essay, or an analysis, or conjecture. Lack of information makes it all impossible, and it would be unproductive in this moment due to the uncertainty of it all. This is merely a list of reactions that may resonate with others, and that I hope will legitimize people who feel ashamed or alone in their feelings.

Tragic tales rarely do make sense.”—Gwenn Wright, The BlueStocking Girl

When I first heard the news, I was simply worried about my friends and family. Then I felt guilty for not being concerned for the well-being of others.

Then I felt confused that I wasn’t shocked that something so awful could happen in such a magnificent city.

I felt guilty for ignoring my roommate as I frantically attempted to find out more information.

I felt guilty for giving thought to my hunger (after having not eaten for 7 hours) when more important things were happening.

I felt rage at the person or people responsible, whoever they might be.

I felt anger at myself that after all I know, after all I’ve studied, after everything I understand about human nature and violence, that my first response was not rooted in empathy and understanding, but rooted in the same sort of violence that causes this kind of tragedy around the world.

I felt relieved that the number of casualties were so low.

I felt guilty for not prioritizing the casualties we had.

I felt pain at the thought that for so many around the world, this was a weekly or daily occurrence.

I felt guilty that my country is, in part, responsible for committing violent acts, and for perpetuating political, economic, social, and philosophical ideologies that lead to violence.

I felt apprehensive of those who might claim that my country had something like this coming, based on the prior.

I felt guilty for agreeing.

I felt so much pride at all of the stories of first-responders attending to the scene, knowing they were potentially putting their lives in danger to protect fellow citizens.

I felt overwhelmed at the massive amounts of genuine love flowing through Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, etc. that had been masked by non-committal, brief messages like “Miss you!”, “Let’s catch up soon!” and “<3!”

I felt hypocritical because I’ve done the same so many times.

I felt resentment towards all of those who asked to pray only for the souls and families of the victims, and not for the perpetrators who were failed by society to the point that they felt the need to do this.

I felt disgust for thinking that the perpetrators deserved our thoughts and energy.

I felt guilt for my disgust, because I know better.

I felt uncertainty at thinking that I know better, even though I know I know better.

I felt disappointment at all of the people instantly jumping on the “Blame the Muslims!” bandwagon.

I felt resigned to the fact that, like so many other tragedies, we will continue to ignore how neo-liberal, capitalist, patriarchal forces are, in and of themselves, forms of violence that continue to subjugate people into places of anguish and desperation that can lead to such attacks.

I felt despair at the fact that preventing the pain and loss of life that result from sudden attacks such as this will always get more attention, funding, and legitimacy as “violence” than the structural violence that continues to destroy homes, separate families, and starve and bleed people dead across the nation.

I felt hopeful that maybe this time, things will be different and we’ll finally learn from these tragedies.

I felt fear that, depending on the source of the violence, we would once again get sucked into a seemingly never-ending war that will ruin more lives.

I felt inspired by participants of the event who offered their services and gave blood, overwhelming the Red Cross’ needed supply.

I felt bitterness towards my fellow Americans that they could be so upset over what is comparatively an incredibly minor attack while turning a blind eye towards a massive deathtoll incurred around the world to “keep Americans safe” and to “protect our interests”.

I felt energized to continue on my path to do what I can to change the world so that this doesn’t happen ever again.

I felt guilty for thinking of my own personal dreams during a time of community suffering.

I felt intense flares of animosity towards those blind to their own privilege of “feeling safe” when that feeling hardly exists around the globe.

I felt abhorrence at my animosity, and despondence at it’s intensity.

I felt heartbroken that yet another generation of children would not only require an explanation of a bloody tragedy, but also that the explanations given wouldn’t even begin to hint at its complexities.

I felt insane levels of self-loathing that not two days prior, I had joked with a friend in Santiago that now was as good a time as any to leave Boston, as it might be one of the top bombing targets for North Korea.

I felt as though if we had this level of reaction to any and all violence that was ever committed anywhere ever, then maybe—just maybe—we’d be so sick of feeling so absolutely and pathetically miserable that we’d actually do something—anything and everything possible—to make it stop.

I felt envious of all of the people who were there, as I wished I could have been there to trade lives with the 8-year-old or try to help in some way.

I felt stupid for thinking that I could have done anything more than be in the way of trained professionals.

I felt elated at all of the outpouring of support from around the country and the world.

I felt optimistic that things will get better, and that we will persevere.

I felt overjoyed at the immense amount of resilience of Boston.

I felt endless love for all of humanity, and the drive to ensure all feel that love.

If you are feeling any of the above or more, know that you are not alone. However, our feelings cannot end there, and for guidance on what to do next, I turn to my junior year of high school’s English class motto.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” —Lord Alfred Tynneson, Ulysses

We must strive not to let this experience—and those like it—completely define us. It will forever be a part of ourselves, but we cannot be overcome by it. Instead, we must constantly push forward in the world to

We must seek understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and grace for all parties involved. True healing can only begin when we let go of all ill that binds us to the source of our pain.

We must find answers—real answers—to get to the root of this (and other) attacks. We must learn all that we can in order to grow and prevent it from happening again, both to ourselves and to any and everyone else.

And we must never yield to that which seeks to destroy, especially if the chain of destruction starts with—or includes—ourselves.

In a world full of commonplace tragedies, only one thing exists that truly has the power to save lives, and that is love.”—Richelle E. Goodrich, Dandelions: The Disappearance of Annabelle Fancher

We must remember that it is not enough just to be there for each other. We must do that, but we must be there for the world. Any support we offer friends and family, we must be willing to offer complete strangers; not only in times of crisis, as has been seen in countless situations, but in all moments.

You never know when your love could save a life.

We must open our hearts to the love of others and of ourselves; we must free our minds of the biases, bigotries, mysteries, and uncertainties that confine us; we must liberate our bodies of the physical restraints that prevent the different kinds of human contact we have evolved to need; and we must unleash our souls in all of their power and majesty to keep the hatred, malice, and greed at bay to make way for love, benevolence, and charity.

Keep on crying.

Keep on hugging.

Keep on giving.

Keep on loving.

And, for all those connected to the marathon whose lives are forever changed, don’t ever, ever stop running.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
Dalai Lama XIV


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