So we confront this grim spectacle again, this time at the Boston Marathon—not only on one of the most enjoyable days of the year in Boston, Patriots’ Day, but in the absolute heart of the town, Copley Square, on one of Boston’s most pleasant streets. Seeing the carnage in a familiar location on such a beautiful New England day was more than the mind and heart could comprehend. Seeing Boston so damaged was like seeing a loved one terribly injured.
We are properly reminded that such acts of terror are rare. We are urged to focus on the heroic selflessness of the police, the marathon volunteers, firefighters and emergency medical teams and the passersby, the helpers who hurled themselves into the tense struggle to save lives and serve the wounded in the crucial seconds and minutes that elapsed after the bombs went off. We are asked to confront this modern evil with resolution, to live our lives without fear, to remember that for all the headlines they generate, acts of terror are infinitesimally rare and the people capable of such cruelty blessedly few.
All true and all worth hearing and remembering. And yet, the sorrow likewise cannot be denied. What to do with this pain? How to process these unholy sights, little different from the sights in Syria and Afghanistan, Jerusalem and Gaza, Pakistan, Yemen and all the other places on earth where unspeakable violence is visited upon the innocent.
In a moment from last May preserved on Facebook, Martin Richard holds up a sign in his second grade classroom. “No more hurting people,” it reads. “Peace.”
Just another sweet sentiment from a sweet little boy in a classroom somewhere in America. An endearing message and an image that would have gone unnoticed except that now this message and this image are changed utterly; Martin was the unnamed 8-year-old mentioned in early reports as one of three fatalities in the hours immediately after the bombs went off near the marathon’s finish line. His picture has been handed from one to another across the Internet, a digital prayer card that provokes the same sharp gasp of anguish wherever it has been seen. Martin was taken away in a split second of barbarity. His mother and sister grievously wounded; his family shattered. Who will tell his surviving family members to face resolutely the world after losing so much, so suddenly? Who can tell them how to stand up to their sorrow?
“That little boy will never come home again,” a neighbor in mourning told a Boston reporter. “It’s still unreal.”
This is, of course, not the first time such pointless suffering has been inflicted, and it will surely, sadly, not be the last. Our hearts have been cracked open and pried apart again by tragedy. But this fractured heart makes space for love to grow, to pour forth and to flow into the world.
This is the love that tears down fences instead of fleeing the horror. This is the love that stanches the blood flowing from severed limbs, picks up the fallen, comforts the injured. This is the love that spends frantic moments that seem like an eternity seeking after loved ones, forgetting old resentments upon the news that they are safe and secure. This is the love that aches over the murder of Martin Richard and the other innocent bystanders.
“In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston, “we turn to the light of Christ.”
At the end of this Easter season, Boston has been returned to Good Friday, a day that teaches us that we have a God who understands suffering. Everyone on the first Good Friday in Jerusalem knew suffering. Jesus’ disciples, who had expected a joyful victory, confronted instead a miserable failure. Family and friends had followed him into the city in great happiness; they were rewarded with uncontainable grief. Like the people in Boston, who had prepared for joy, they must have struggled to accept all the day’s misery. Here was the person they loved, for whom they had great hopes, cut down. It did not make sense.
A victim of senseless violence as surely as those on Boylston Street, Jesus is with us in our suffering, not only because he loves us, but because he has suffered too.
But suffering is never the last word. There is always the possibility of new life. But how will that victory be achieved? The end of our race, where we know peace and mercy overtake the darkness, may be too distant to see now, as it was impossible for the disciples on Good Friday to see; but the God who has suffered is ready to help us, always holding out the promise of something new, something that will help us move beyond the blood and the tears.
That was true in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, and it is true in Boston—and anywhere else the darkness may fall—today.
This editorial has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 14, 2013
An earlier version of this editorial misspelled the name of the young boy killed in the Boston bombings. His name is Martin Richard, not Richards.