This morning Boston awoke to read something extraordinary, yet somehow not unexpected, from one of the families most impacted by the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings. They want federal prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table in the penalty phase of the recently-convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Why was this not unexpected? Because Bostonians in general, and families of those wounded and killed in particular, continue to confound our expectations of what the reaction to such brutality should look like. They stay positive, they nurture themselves and their families instead of fixating on the perpetrator, they try to make our city and the world better as an antidote to tragedy.
And yet why was it extraordinary? Because our world stokes the fires of vengeance and violence. We are made to feel proud by the tough, vindictive things we say about people who wrong us in ways large or small. Our popular entertainment often hinges on fantasies of getting back at people, the worst of our pundits and news outlets encourage us to view those who disagree with us as enemies, and to hate them.
Many of us seek vengeance even when it is not justifiable, and yet people in whom the desire for violent retribution is understandable have chosen something else.
I will not put words in their mouths and say this is mercy. But I know that mercy is the virtue I must cultivate if I were ever to make a decision or statement as brave as theirs.
God bless their family, God be with Boston, make me merciful, make us strong.
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