With any luck, this will be playing as I die, and my death will last its duration.
I ran over two miles today. It doesn’t seem like that spectacular of a feat considering the tens of thousands who showed up in the city I call home on Monday in order to run 26 of the awful things. But I’m not a runner. I’m healthy and in good shape, but the most I run is a quarter of a mile as a means to warm up before the rest of my work out.
But today I couldn’t stop running. It didn’t take me long to realize that my brain was doing most of the work. While I wasn’t at the marathon when the bombs went off, and none of my friends were hurt, my news-junkie nature compelled me to follow every detail, read every article, and barely leave the television. The week-long spectacle was nothing short of a made-for-television event. You couldn’t have written a more gripping plot that twisted and turned and heated up with greater intensity just when you thought it was cooling down. Thursday night’s explosive-laden car chase looked like something taken directly from one of the last two Batman movies.
But unlike a TV show or a movie, this was, very sadly, reality. And there was no escaping it. Which is why my poor brain had no choice but to make my poor legs go.
Much has been said about what it was like to be in Boston this week. The fear, the anxiety, the sadness, the anger, the Boston pride. Many derided the suspects as cowards and praised the first responders as heroes, as we’ve come to expect during these types of events. But as the week went on, I found myself identifying less and less with the narrative most Bostonians were telling. It started to happen during the beautiful interfaith healing service on Thursday.
I was struck by and proud of the profound faith on display for the entire world. It is a faith unique to Boston, one of the reasons I love this city. It is a result of a rich tradition of progress, of deep and abiding love for our neighbors. It is a faith that embraces the mind as much as the heart. It asks questions and it challenges assumptions. A friend texted me, “People of America, let me introduce you to the deep faith tradition of New England.” We saw two female reverends, one of whom was African American, we heard a Greek-Orthodox priest speak so beautifully about Jesus, and we were treated to Hebrew and Arabic sounds of faith, hope, and life.
I was discomforted, however, as my president took the stage and dramatically changed the tone. He’s opening words: “Hello Boston!” It took me back to my first time hearing him speak in person, at a campaign rally downtown when I was a student and he was running for president. In a moment that was sure to set an example for the rest of us, he opted not to teach us how to mourn, but to stir us to our feet, to defiantly chant and clap and enter once again into the narrow mindset of good against evil.
Do we still believe that anything is truly that simple? Is it even possible to view the world in dark black and stark white? Have the last 12 years done nothing to blend the two into a murky, muddy grey? Can’t we take a moment to recognize the sadness of the situation? A human being is a human being and it’s heartbreaking that anyone’s life would bring them to the point where they would be responsible for placing a bomb next to an eight year old boy, killing him and bringing harm to hundreds of other bodies and countless psyches.
As we know, that day turned to dark, and fear and panic once again gripped the area. With one of the suspects dead, we all sat in our homes, ordered to stay put, and watched as the full weight of every US law enforcement agency bore down against a 19 year old man-boy, presumably following in his older brother’s footsteps. I grew weary reading messages like “Catch that bastard!” and “Waterboard that bitch!”
As I watched people in Watertown line the streets to cheer and clap as the ambulance carrying young Dzhokhar passed them, streets that I lived on for several years, I couldn’t help but remember the audience moved to their feet by President Obama in the cathedral the day before. Nor could I fend off the images of people around the world cheering at various times when Americans have been killed.
Nor could I keep away the words of that first century Palestinian Jew, who probably had a nose much like Dzhokhar’s: Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Maybe it’s just too difficult a charge for us to take up. Maybe it’s a miraculous act only Jesus was capable of. Or maybe we’re all just a little too cowardly to let ourselves go there.
What I expect to happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.
Pink Brian says, “Buy Local!”