What a week. As I struggled to make some sense of what happened at the Marathon on Monday, I did a lot of inarticulate, impassioned writing. Because I had so much trouble finding the words to express myself, I was even more impressed by the many people who found all the right words. Here are my top seven pieces about the marathon bombing.
One of Boston’s native sons, author Dennis Lehane, wrote in the New York Times that whoever did this was Messing with the Wrong City. That sentiment, when uttered with an undertone of boot-in-your-a$$ jingoism, can be obnoxious. Lehane makes it palatable, and makes us believe it.
Two different friends texted me the identical message yesterday: They messed with the wrong city. This wasn’t a macho sentiment. It wasn’t “Bring it on” or a similarly insipid bit of posturing. The point wasn’t how we were going to mass in the coffee shops of the South End to figure out how to retaliate. Law enforcement will take care of that, thank you. No, what a Bostonian means when he or she says “They messed with the wrong city” is “You don’t think this changes anything, do you?”
Trust me, we won’t be giving up any civil liberties to keep ourselves safe because of this. We won’t cancel next year’s marathon. We won’t drive to New Hampshire and stockpile weapons. When the authorities find the weak and terminally maladjusted culprit or culprits, we’ll roll our eyes at whatever backward ideology they embrace and move on with our lives…
Boston took a punch on Monday — two of them, actually — that left it staggering for a bit. Flesh proved vulnerable, as flesh is wont to do, but the spirit merely trembled before recasting itself into something stronger than any bomb or rage.
Another writer from Dorchester was Bill Forry, editor of the Dorchester Reporter, quoting Auden in his editorial Stop all the clocks. For Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston, this tragedy is all the more personal because its youngest victim lived there. In a piece that refuses hagiography in favor of grieving for a real person, Forry gives a picture not just of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old victim, but of a neighborhood that exemplifies the meaning of community.
Our world has stopped. For some of us it will stay that way forever. But Jeff Gonyeau will be back one day to wind it up [the town clock] and set the hands in motion again. It won’t be this week and probably not this month.
The day will come when justice is done for Martin. We will wait – all of us together— for that day.
God bless those who can make us laugh through our tears. Stephen Colbert did just that in his brief tribute to Boston on Tuesday night. He began with the historical fact that “Boston was founded by the Pilgrims, a people so tough they had to buckle their goddamn hats on.” By all means, watch the entirety of the Colbert Nation Intro from 4/16.
My favorite belligerent blogger happens to also be a Massachusetts resident, and he wrote an impassioned defense of our fair commonwealth, proclaiming “We Are the Commonwealth of Massachusetts“. He defends the things others deride us for: universal health care, progressive politics, a willingness to collect revenue and spend it on things that people need, and my hero Michael Dukakis. (Anyone who defends Dukakis gets a gold star from me: Michael Dukakis is a good and decent man and the country would be better off if it listened to him about high-speed rail. Testify Charlie.)
We mourn now, because what happened Monday is still too close in time. We grieve, because it was only yesterday that we learned the names of the dead. We grieve and we mourn and we do all these things because that is what citizens of a political commonwealth do at times like this. But there are limits to grief and there are limits to mourning. We will go back to being what we were before. We will return to our good public schools and our decent public parks. We will walk again for free in the woods and along the sea. We will place ourselves in the care of our decent health-care system. (Thanks again, Mitt!) We will pay again for our public servants and our first-responders, and some of them will game our systems, and we’ll raise a great howl, and mock the suckers who got caught, but we will not be conned by the grifters who are trying to make a Mississippi of us all.
We are not what they think we are. We are not the myths they’ve made of us. We are what we are, the Commonwealth Of Massachusetts, God save it, goddammit.
On a very practical note, one of the surgeons from a Boston hospital wrote in the New Yorker about Why Boston’s Hospitals were Ready. Though his hypothesis is grim – that the loss of innocence after 9/11 changed responsiveness, that “Where before we’d have been struck dumb with shock about such events, now we are almost calculating about them” – the outcomes are inspiring. The stories he recounts from the hospitals immediately after the bombing are fascinating and well-rendered.
Jayme Stayer, SJ is a friend of mine, so I already knew he was wicked smaht. His piece on Speaking of Tragedy in The Jesuit Post uses poetry to explore the appropriate response to tragedy in our conversations and our writing. He acknowledges the ambiguity of expression in cases of horror: we want to speak, and must speak, but we ought not to be self-centered by claiming a suffering that doesn’t belong to us.
Finally, I’ll refer you back to yesterday’s summary of remarks from the Interfaith Prayer Service held at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Each of the speakers hit it out of the park in their own way. I was floored and inspired.
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