Monday, April 22, 2013

Visceral Hatred and Redemption

Last week when I wrote my first post-marathon entry, I wrote about how the death of an eight year old I did not know had inspired me renew my efforts to live every day of my life to its fullest.  I thought afterwards that it was easy for me to write that since I did not know the eight year old.  So, his death was just a concept for me.  But one thing that has bugged me ever since last week is that it did not necessarily have to be an eight year old I did not know.  While my family was not there and had never expected to come to Boston to watch me, they could have.  And while the explosions occurred 90 minutes after I crossed the finish line, there is (as yet) no logical reason for the explosions having occurred at 2:50 rather than at 1:20.  So, I have spent some time dwelling on the what ifs that leads to.

On one of my overseas work trips I read a book by Frank Herbert (author of Dune) called The White Plague.  The gist of it is that a US bioengineer was in Ireland at the time during which the IRA was exploding bombs relatively frequently.  He lost his wife and son in a bombing caused by the IRA.  That pushed him over the edge enough to create a bioterrorism virus that nearly destroyed the world.  I read the book with an interest in the description of the search for the person, government's reactions to the bioterrorism, and the struggles the main character had after he launched the bioterrorism event.  I did not take seriously the premise that the death of a wife and child could push someone that far over the edge.

After last Monday, however, I could imagine it much more easily.  My eight year old was safely 400 miles away.  My wife has never been to Boston.  And yet the fact that someone could attack something so dear to me in a way that could even possibly put my family at risk brought up a hatred in me that I don't recall ever feeling before.  This even exceeds any emotion I recall feeling after September 11, 2001.  I felt desperation back in 2001 but not this level of hatred.  For me, September 11, 2001, was a horrible incident but it was also "conceptual".  In contrast, the issues here felt so much closer to me.  And I feared what I felt.  But writing that I felt it at all helps me to let it go.

I am not suggesting that I would have reacted as the character in the novel.  But, I am saying that I could have imagined snapping out in a way I had never imagined before.

But at Boston Marathon plus six days, i.e., Sunday April 20, I think I had a bit of redemption.  The day was certainly part of my rebuilding process.  And others may or may not see this as a part of redemption.  But I had to confront some of the issues from last Monday head on and brought my faith out in doing so.

I teach Sunday school at the St. Pius X catholic church as I have for a decade.  My class this year is third graders.  I thought long and hard about what I was going to say to the students before class yesterday.  I had decided not to bring up the Boston Marathon events unless the students brought them up.

And so we began class with the Lord's Prayer and then I asked what students wanted to pray for.  One student had heard about the Boston Marathon events at the 8 AM mass.  (I should probably say been reminded of as I am sure all the students heard about it during the week.)  Another student remembered that I had told them I would miss class the previous week because I was going to run the Boston Marathon.  (It had seemed like a harmless thing to tell them in advance.)  Then, we spent 15 minutes or so talking about the events.

I reassured the children that I was not in direct danger.  The students seemed to be having difficult coming to grips with why anyone would do this.  The best I could tell them was that I did not know.  So far, no one knows.  Then, I reminded them that each of us makes bad decisions sometimes.  I challenged them to think of bad decisions they had made and to try to think of why they did it.  They agreed that sometimes they had trouble figuring out their own poor decisions.  So, it was not unreasonable to think that they would not understand others' bad decisions.  I also told them about all the good things of Monday.  The 8,500 volunteers who helped runners all weekend and on the day of the race before 2:50.  I also pointed out all the good decisions and good people who helped others after 2:50.  And I pointed out the bad decisions the two men had made.  I challenged them to think about the Ten Commandments and eight Beatitudes.  And to remember that these are what we believe should guide us.

Finally, I pointed out that in our justice system, the surviving brother has not yet been proven guilty.  And I uttered the word forgiveness. I didn't make a really big deal of this.  I did mention how hard it would be to forgive.  And I don't expect anyone to forget.  But forgiveness (when a person is truly sorry) is a fundamental part of my faith.

Redemption?  Maybe.  Maybe it is just in my own mind.  But I have stated and let go of the hatred I felt and I have stated the word forgiveness--a part of moving forward and completely coming to grips with the experiences of the last seven days.  I cannot guarantee I would be talking about forgiveness if the dead or injured had been my relatives.  But I find that uttering the word forgiveness after thinking sharply hateful thoughts is part of my process of moving on.  

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