There are never words for times like these. I write that as if I have had times like these before. But where my words fail, my body speaks. Heavy. So damn heavy. Cement-filled veins anchor me to the ground. Grateful that my feet are still here holding me steady as the world violently shakes around me. But I am strained. It isn’t easy to stay standing when so many fall. But it isn’t even the numbers, though the numbers matter. And it isn’t even that it could have been my friend's dad, though that matters too.
I think I feel the tears in the collective sky reverberating through Boston. I wouldn’t be surprised if it began raining soon. Wash this all away. Wash this all away.
I was locking my bike in front of church tonight as the three boys walked down the street. Teenagers, texting with headphones in while carrying out a conversation, “Can you imagine dude, being down there… not running away, but running toward the violence. Helping even when they are covered in blood. So much blood.”
“You just gotta tune it out I think. You just gotta forget there is blood and help.”
They walked on. I took a deep breath, reminding myself that they were not talking about some foreign war or a video game. No, they were walking down the streets of Boston just a few blocks from where the bombs went off three days ago. They were talking about their home. My home, if only temporary.
The lump formed in my throat as I biked down Beacon St., but it was when I stepped through the front doors of the church that my eyes welled up. Once the music began, the tears came, almost against my will. My thoughts vascillated between being so grateful to be in a place where I could cry, yet also analyzing myself—why now? why are you crying now when you were "fine" all day?, and then wondering if I was allowed to feel this sad. I am not from Boston. I’ve joked since coming here that I am on a study-abroad trip for a year from the Midwest. My home here is across the river from Boston in Somerville. I attend Harvard. Copley square was a place I had been meaning to go all year, but had not yet made it to. And now I instantly want to launch into the reasons I am allowed to feel sad… I had been watching the marathon just before. My friend’s dad was running it, though, thankfully, was having a bad race and did not make his target time, the time the bomb went off. That I feel this as an ally to the pain so many feel directly. But… that all misses the point. It is not about who got hurt most or who was closest to the blast though those things do matter. This blast shook more than the ground beneath it.
It wasn’t the worst thing to be on lock down with one of my best friends in the entire world. Not that I enjoyed it. But if I was going to have to spend a day in an apartment because an “armed and dangerous” boy was on the run, doing it with Ari was the way I wanted to do it. I'm glad at twenty-seven we still plan sleepovers that would have me over at her house on this morning. Like most Americans we were glued to our TVs from 6:30am until at least noon before we stepped away. We kept being sure it would come to a close soon. At 1, we napped with the TV’s soft murmur behind us. The incessant sound of the Watertown shoot out becoming a familiar backdrop. It was 3 when we finally ate a proper meal and 4:30 when we started giggling inappropriately all the time because we had been inside too long and the world wasn’t making sense. At 5, I finally got a little schoolwork done. Eventually the seventy-degree weather called us to brave the outdoors, breath in the spring sprinkle, see the flowers. With another friend we walked amidst freshly blooming trees that did not seem to have a hint about what was going on. I took my shoes off and felt the grass beneath my toes. I smiled the kind of smile that only the natural world can invoke. When we got home, we settled into a night of pizza making, wine-sipping, and debriefing. We kept an eye on the developing story of Dzokhar’s arrest, but we weren’t glued to it. We got sucked into conversations about violence, and its roots. We asked questions like, “what rules can a society have that really make for less violence?” We questioned what role rules even have in such big questions. We bemoaned the polarization of our leaders and our neighbors. We wondered how we might sustain the kindness that has emerged this week past this week. We felt relief that Dzokhar was no longer “at large,” but also felt deep sadness that his life had come to this moment. We held hands and did a Quaker prayer before eating pizza and diverging into conversations about first memories and childhood crushes. It was a complicated day. Not all bad. Far from good.
Eventually, it was time. Time to go back to my home in Somerville. Time to go feel this in my bed where I felt this all Monday night. I was ready to take a deep breath in my home, however temporary it is. As I drove home, I put in my new birthday CD from my roommate Michelle—a mix of female empowerment songs named for the famous Rhianna song and my personal 2013 mantra, Shine Bright Like a Diamond. I momentarily felt guilty for listening to music and not the news, but not guilty enough to switch back. As I drove around Jamaica Pond, I felt my adrenaline start to give way to feeling. I remembered waking up to a text about the lockdown. I shook my head in disbelief. My fingers clenched the steering wheel as if I was driving home after watching a scary movie, flashing back to all the scenes, looking over my shoulder every once in a while. Only this horror movie is real life. And it’s been five days long. As I processed that thought I realized my car was passing Beth Israel Hospital, where Dzohar had been taken. I felt a chill at just how close this has all been to me and so many I love. That is when the swarms of college students appeared on either side of my car going down Brookline Ave. At first I thought maybe there was something happening. They all had their phones out and were taking pictures. As I got closer, they started pouring out into the street, looking forward, photographing, cheering. Soon, my car was stopped, completely swarmed. All around me people were chanting “USA, USA, USA.” The champagne bottles were out, being shaken and released. People were prancing in boas and top hats and goofy sunglasses, climbing on each other’s shoulders, smiling, thrilled. Still stuck in my car, I was unsure what to do. I felt invisible. Eventually a man who appeared to be dressed in medical scrubs, who likely had just gotten off an arduous shift approached my car from the car behind me, I rolled down my window, “Are you going through?”
“That’s my intention,” I said, unsure if maybe they were hollering because the suspect had not yet been brought and was just approaching. Or for a minute, I actually wondered if there was a big international sporting event that happened today that I hadn’t heard about. Maybe they were just celebrating that.
“There’s nothing in front of them. Just go.”
I blasted my horn, and eventually the sea of celebration parted. I crept my car through as the people frolicked in and out of traffic, fearful of taking another life on this fragile week. As I drove off, my heart beat hard and fast and with such great disappointment. Tears bubbled over. This is not the point. This is not the point.
I get it. Those of us who have survived this week are damn happy to be alive. But, this is not the kind of happy that makes me want to jump in the streets, shake champagne and chant patriotism. Dzokhar was an American. America didn’t “win” today. I am so grateful for the hard work of the police, FBI, first-responders, doctors, nurses, chaplains, parents facing impossible questions from their kids and the many helpers big and small. I am so impressed with the people who have stayed calm, held tight, and felt this deeply together. But I do not feel like we are winners right now. I ache for the families who lost loved ones, and those who are physically left with reminders of this week that may never go away. I ache for Dzokhar, and whatever it is that led him to this moment. I ache for his family and friends who can't make sense of this. There has been a lot of death, too much of it, this week. Not only in Boston. And there is a lot of death a lot of weeks. There is something underneath this violence that needs to be understood and worked through and healed. We aren’t going to get there with one side as winners. We are going to need to do this one together.
As a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, I don’t always know what to do in times like these. Some of us pray, but it isn’t exactly a core part to the faith—or at least it isn’t taught in religious education. We hold on deeply to love and justice and each other. I have felt those values tested this week. I continue to. But, I have to believe that underneath all of this there remains a force of good stronger than evil; a force of love stronger than hate; a force of empathy stronger than othering; a force of community stronger than alienation. At dinner growing up, I loved saying our grace. It went like this, “We love each other. We help each other. We live together in peace.”
May it be so.
May it be so.