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16 April 2013

Inspiration in the devastation, hope in the chaos

I'm not a Bostonian. I don't claim to be. I proudly hail from NY and yet I loudly cheer for the Red Sox. Despite my geographical roots, as an adult, I've felt a strong affinity for New England and Boston. Part of that stems, I'm sure, from dating a Bostonian for a long time, but a huge part of that affinity comes from the history (both literary and national) that is deeply rooted in the culture and architecture and landscape and people. I'm a 19th Century American Lit PhD (ABD for now ...), and all of the authors that I study are from New England and Boston. I feel closer to them and their world whenever I visit. 

Sadly, I haven't been to Boston in almost two full years. I haven't seen a Red Sox game at Fenway in almost three. I miss the noise of the city. The screech of the old trains and their dirty, earthy, subterranean smell. The beating of the waves against the boat hulls in the harbor. The tranquility of Chris Columbus Park surrounded by the towering office buildings and honking horns. Mike's Pastries and NEBO and all the amazing food. The glistening sparkle of the capitol dome. The crack of a bat in the Fen. I'm not a Bostonian, but a large part of my heart belongs there. 

So hearing about the marathon yesterday hurt. I've never been a runner and I've never followed running, but marathon runners have always impressed me. I've never understood their desire to run just to run, but I respect anyone who can run for 26.2 miles. The Boston Marathon has always been an event that brought people together. It's kicks off a significant week in Boston's culture, a week filled with community events and celebrations. Baseball games, hockey, basketball, concerts, parades ... The long drifted snow has finally started to melt, and spring has finally arrived. And for someone to disrupt that feeling of joy and togetherness with such violence and hatred is unthinkable and beyond all comprehension. 

But, sadly, I've seen this before. We all have. September 11th may be over a decade past, but, for those of us who experienced those terrifying days, it is still as fresh as what we had for dinner last night. I remember Oklahoma City and Newtown and The Trade Center and my own personal tragedy. These acts of violence are nothing new to me. And, despite their familiarity, I still fail to comprehend them. I find myself feeling sad and lost and overwhelmed by the monsters of the world in which I live. So overwhelmed that I forget about all the good. All the bright shining moments and generous people who work tirelessly in their own way to make things good. And I've realized that nothing I ever do will change the world. No act, no matter how great or small, will change the actions of people who seem to act with no reason. But I can change my reactions to the world. 

I refuse to let the actions of a mad man (or men) change my heart. I believe that the majority of the world is kind and good, and those who cause harm are a sad minority in need of something. I don't know what that something is, and, honestly, it's beyond me to worry about that. Instead of ranting and raving on social media and to my friends and on this blog about how devastating this tragedy is and how this person (these persons) are such monsters, I am shifting the focus to celebrate the overwhelming swell of humanity and love that has emerged from such sad events. When the name(s) of the attackers are released, you won't find them here or on my Fb page or in my Twitter feed. I refuse to contribute to this person's (people's) desire for fame and celebrity due to whatever motives that they may have. Every time our news media increases their ratings by splashing the images of these madmen on the nightly news, we only confirm that such acts of hatred are worthy of recognition and celebrity. While I'm sure that this is not the intention of the news, it is the result.  Instead, I'm going to celebrate those who were there to help. Those who were there to love. Those who were there to freely give to strangers. Those who rose above the senseless violence to extend a hand to help others to their feet.

Like Brett who tells the world where he lives and his phone number and that he's "got food and a futon and a warm place to crash."

Or Barbara who offered her pull-out couch and a hot, home-cooked meal to anyone who needed it. 

And Rachel, who didn't have any extra room, but was happy to transport people to where they needed to go and feed them as well.

And Aviva, the MIT student, who offered up her already cramped dorm room. 

Or Kelsey, who happily offered to give up her own bed for the comfort of a displaced and disheartened runner. 

And Sarah, who offered her home for rest and her dogs for cuddles and affection.

THESE are the people who deserve our attention and nightly news time. The first responders. The trainers who shifted their focus from muscle aches to missing limbs. The off-duty police who rushed in to work to help. The hundreds of bystanders who stepped away from their own immediate needs and fears to help those who were scared and alone and confused. THESE are worthy. But we too often forget them for the sake of images of carnage and violence and catastrophe. But I refuse to do this. Just looking over the list of homes volunteered in the hours after the explosions brings tears to my eyes. Not the normal tears of sadness and disgust and heartbreak that typically follow such events. Instead, I shed tears of hope and love and inspiration knowing that all these strangers stepped up to the call of need. THESE are the people who I will focus on and celebrate in the days and weeks that follow. Those who have helped the hurt. Those who have sacrificed their own safety for the well being of others. Those who opened their hearts and their homes to provide shelter and warmth to the lost. I refuse to waste my thoughts, my words, my heart, and my strength on those who cause destruction. I will continue to believe in the good of mankind, and, anytime I doubt that it exists, I look back at that Google Doc and be reminded. 

Blue sky over Boston Harbor.

Chris Columbus Park.

The Seat.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
― Fred Rogers
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