When Violence Visits You: Boston after the Marathon Bombings

IT’S BEEN SIX MONTHS SINCE THE BOMBING THAT SHOOK MY CITY. Boston is not unique for having such violence invade its ordinary daily routines, its joyful rituals. It won’t be the last place that such appalling acts take place. But it does change things when you feel your own home, your place — yours! — as the target of cold blind hatred.

Today I’m thinking about the feverish week that followed that sudden explosion. The endless looping footage, the breathless (and often wrong) pronouncements by newscasters. I was at the marathon that day, as so many Bostonians were; I was near the finish line, but I left a few hours before the awful event. When I walked home, some time later I turned on the news and saw what had happened. My sister called in a panic; she knew I had gone to watch the runners. Those small moments always make me queasy, the terror that family members feel in the aftermath of such chaos.

The violence followed a pattern that we’re too familiar with these days: a panicky period, a shutdown of cell phones, reports on the wounded, a search for the guilty party. Six months later, it’s hard to believe such a thing happened; I’m very proud of the city’s response. With the exception of some media hysteria, the reaction seemed reasonable, aggrieved, but with a minimum of vengeful feeling or lashing out at innocent groups.

New Yorkers know exactly what Boston felt then, to a far larger degree. We feel this strange sickening confusion — the childlike, petulant feeling that we don’t deserve this, no, this didn’t really happen because it can’t happen, not now, not here, not to us. Then, the realization; the hollow biting sadness. We’re left a little more fearful, a little more anxious, wondering what’s to stop this from happening again.

Overall, after the initial intense focus, I haven’t thought much about the perpetrators. It just seems so sad, how people’s views can become so hatefully distorted. I still wonder what that process is — what sort of transformation makes a person not a murderer, and then a murderer. Is it gradual and slow, or overnight?

There’s not much point in my wondering about it, of course; it’s the true victims of the crime that have a right to raise these questions. But even if we haven’t been directly affected, I think many people wonder these things. Writers in particular struggle to answer these questions every day. They try to understand why their own characters make the choices they do. They try to understand why some people opt for disaster.

When last I strolled by Copley Square a few weeks ago, the makeshift memorial was still there. I saw the ragged, fluttering pile of balloons, feathers, and signs, the handpainted messages. BOSTON STRONG and WE WILL NOT FORGET and OUR HEARTS ARE WITH YOU. The teddy bears and running shoes that quietly accumulated in the weeks that followed the attack. It’s good to see these things, to know how many people care deeply. And yet it also emphasizes how futile these little memorials are when they spring up after a car accident or a bombing. I’m reminded of the thousands of stuffed animals sent to Newtown, Connecticut — what happened to all the bears? Did the town really need them?

No, part of me wants a better memorial, and perhaps we’ll get one in time — a slab of granite, a line of photographs, names carved into stone. And another part of me wants something more magical yet — for time to sweep gracefully backwards. I’m sure many imagine what would be the best thing of all — a backpack being picked up instead of put down, a police dog walking by at the right time, a decision made long ago somehow stopped when it was only a seed of anger. Wouldn’t that be best — of course, of course it would. And of course, there’s no point in wishing for it. All we can do is continue to feel; to allow ourselves grief and questioning. To keep wondering why.

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