The Marathon

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.

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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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Judith Miller
4 years 7 months ago
"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." I hope our pain, my pain, will bring me into closer solidarity with those in these other countries who similarly, and more regularly, endure this kind of violence. Locally, for me it means building closer ties with my Muslim friends who are experiencing the same pain but also the fear of retribution upon their community.
c w s fong
4 years 7 months ago
… No more heinous attacks but only acts of kindness. … Bostonians and all to God we pray – Our thoughts for people traumatised by amputation; Shower your blessings on those who lost loved ones; The tragic incident in Boston on Monday afternoon, Our wish that whatever caused the tragedy, Nowhere people would ever experience similar event. In our hearts we remember those who died, A prayer that they now rest in your eternal peace. No more heinous attacks but only acts of kindness. Saving God may peace prevail, in Boston, and elsewhere. Amen.
laura sabath
4 years 7 months ago
I keep holding onto these: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity, 2 June 2002: What he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, he now does [on the cross]: he does not offer violence against violence, as he might have done, but puts an end to violence by transforming it into love. The act of killing, of death, is changed into an act of love; violence is defeated by love. This is the fundamental transformation upon which all the rest is based. It is the true transformation which the world needs and which alone can redeem the world.… At the moment of the Last Supper, Jesus has already anticipated the event of Calvary. He accepts the death on the cross and with his acceptance transforms the act of violence into an act of giving, of self-giving poured forth, "Even if I am to be poured out as a libation on the sacrificial offering of your faith", St Paul says on the basis of this and in regard to his own imminent martyrdom in Philippians 2,17. The Papal Household Preacher for John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well as their papal delegate in his address to the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist October 2005 both called the Eucharist the Sacrament of Nonviolence. Benedict XVI, Homily, Munich, 10 September 2006 [God’s] "vengeance" is the Cross: a "No" to violence and a "love to the end". This is the God we need. We do not fail to show respect for other religions and cultures, we do not fail to show profound respect for their faith, when we proclaim clearly and uncompromisingly the God who has countered violence with his own suffering; who in the face of the power of evil exalts his mercy, in order that evil may be limited and overcome. I guess you could say i also hold onto other examples. This from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "'I have witnessed so many incredible people who, despite experiencing atrocity and tragedy, have come to a point in their lives where they are able to forgive. Take the Craddock Four, for example. The police ambushed their car, killed them in the most gruesome manner, set their car alight. When, at a TRC hearing, the teenage daughter of one of the victims was asked: would you be able to forgive the people who did this to you and your family? She answered, ‘We would like to forgive, but we would just like to know who to forgive.’ How fantastic to see this young girl, still human despite all efforts to dehumanise her.' Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was created by Nelson Mandela’s Government of National Unity in 1995 to help South Africans come to terms with their extremely troubled past." To me, there is pain for accidental tragedies, for deliberate acts by disturbed people, for terrorism, and a particular kind of pain from times when our own people urge us to return violence, especially when for self-advantage.
Robert and Susan Bulger
4 years 7 months ago
Thank you for being courageous enough in love to post this article and the first three comments. (I haven't read beyond that yet.) Blessed be the peace makers, and thanks be to God. The main point seems that only God, who is Love, can heal all wounds and divisions; that God "who has suffered is ready to help us." Amen. The article echoes parts of our basic Christian Creed, critical pieces of the Good News, and Creeds of other faithful people. Please excuse me for going off on a personal tangent. I tripped when I first read, "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 . . comforts the injured. This is the love that spends frantic moments . . 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 Richards and the other innocent bystanders." The capitalization denotes the point where I mentally tripped. For a moment I acquiesced to the terrorists' mindset, I saw things as "Us versus Them". Momentarily, I gave in to their expansion of very isolated, political resentments that has been given a pretext of religious differences, for all the righteous justification it provides to both sides of the conflict. The 'logic' for the bombing is nothing but garbage. The real point of the phrase 'forgetting old resentments', is very familiar to me. I'm a New Englander, an M.I.T. alum, with no resentments for the few close friends and family in the Boston area. Still, I have personal experience of disintergrating 'sports fan' resentments. The Andruzzi brothers' again provided a shining example for reaching out the hand of friendship, a hand of healing, across the lines of the virulent NY/Boston sports' rivalries, an example that shamed me. All you good people that see this as unspeakably petty, please excuse me, but solid Ranger fans, and Knicks fans, Mets fans, Giants fans, Jets fans, and Yankee fans know what I'm talking about. (Love to all those other classy MLB cities, Candian sports cities, and others that 'dropped the gloves' to extend healing hands.) So when I get my head around it, when I focus on those petty differences that are are such false excuses for a miasma of hostility towards our neighbors, towards those we should love dearly, I remember how they have evaporated in times of tragedy, how they were replaced with heartache for my brothers and sisters in New York, New York during 911, and on Long Island, Queens and in New Jersey during Hurricane Katrina. Thank you editors for explaining this again. Dear Lord, grant that in general we are wiser about this than I am individually, so that as a people we don't need to learn this lesson again in our lifetime.
Christopher Rushlau
4 years 7 months ago
I was slightly blown up by a vest-bomber in Iraq in 2004, enough to get opened up and evacuated. The thought, slightly affected, that came across my mind as I strolled around the scene looking for someone to practice my medic training on, was generally the line of your editorial, something like, "This is how most of the world lives as a normal thing: dust, dead bodies, absence of central government, people clinging to each other." I didn't read every word of the editorial, or of the comments. I was spurred to go back and find the line about Jerusalem and Gaza. So this may only be a test of my scanning skills and theology: does God allow us to rely on scanning, since we cannot read every line that everybody writes? Can we count on God emphasizing the important issues by making them "salient", "bulging", literally, "leaping"? The context for the Boston attack is US cooptation by the Israel movement, and that movement is devoted to a racist and otherwise anachronistic "state" in Palestine. Would Jesus walk into the temple with the money changers, etc., and forget that Rome was running Palestine at that time? Would he forebear to mention it lest he offend sensibilities? He didn't endorse Barabas and the liberation-insurgents. Their mission was hopeless, as it seems. What about today? What would Jesus say today?
Arthur Milholland
4 years 7 months ago
You say, "We are properly reminded that such acts of terror are rare." Really? Events like this happen almost every day from American drones and cluster bombs, often much worse. And let us not forget over 250 gun shot wounds daily here in America, with way over 1,000,000 gun deaths since Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were killed in 1968,

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