A Marathon of Emotions

Mike Rogers is a better person than me.  I’ve never met him before, and if I was to trip over him I still wouldn’t have a clue who he was.  Still, when I read his open letter to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, I couldn’t help but contrast his thoughts with mine and wish that my reaction to Dzhokhar’s capture was more like his.

My friends and family were on the way to the finish line to greet me when the bombs went off.  No one I know directly was hurt, thanks be to God.  Deacon Rogers’ parents and sister, on the other hand, were already there on Boylston St.  He had friends on their way.  One of his former students was injured.

As I’ve said before, when it dawned on me that my family could have been injured in the attacks, like Deacon Rodgers’ student was, “I really got pissed off and let off another string of words not repeatable here.”  He, on the other hand, prayed that Dzhokhar may “come to know… peace and love.”

That, I must admit, was not my first reaction when the younger Tsarnaev brother was finally pulled out of that boat.  Or even my second, or third.  Instead, my first thought was that I wanted to be a part of the jubilation and celebration that so bewildered Marcus.

After 14 hours spent in my living room in which my only company was the chattering heads of television news, I wanted to get out and make merry with my fellow Bostonians.  As The Onion so aptly put it, “what could only be described by witnesses as the goddamned week to end all soul-crushing weeks” was finally over, and I could think of few better reasons to raise a toast.

Texts started flying just as soon as the words “suspect in custody” came across the airwaves, and off to meet up with some friends I went.  We ended up at a pub near Northeastern University, but not before witnessing the ebullient mob of students who had shut down Hemenway Street with their revelry.  The joy they were radiating was palpable, and that was before they all hit the bars.

So while Marcus makes some excellent points about the need to be careful in our rhetoric, I do not share in his confusion over the urge to congregate.  A terrorist who killed and maimed hundreds of people was captured, and a day-long region-wide siege had come to a successful conclusion.  That’s not worth three cheers, that deserves 30.

We are, as Aristotle noted so long ago, social animals.  We gather together to comfort one another when there is affliction, to rejoice when there is cause for gaiety, and even for no other reason than because being part of a community is an essential part of being human.  Were the multitudes who spontaneously gathered that night all that different than when we as Catholics come together for a baptism, or a funeral, or even just the weekly celebration of the Mass?

I’m not suggesting that it would be appropriate to drape yourself in the flag, or to hoist your girlfriend up onto your shoulders to lead a rendition of the national anthem in the middle of a liturgy.  On that night, in these circumstances, however, I see it as not only perfectly acceptable, but actually cathartic.

It was a week of anger and sadness, and for all too many a day of fear when SWAT teams armed to the teeth rushed past their children as they searched their homes.  The cheers, chants, and songs that could be heard all over Boston that night were really just a way to take a collective deep breath and to release some of the emotions that pent up over the course of the previous 102 hours.

Even after the lustration of clinking glasses with friends and strangers alike, I’m still incredibly frustrated, more frustrated than I have any right to be given the events of that day, that my first marathon was cut short at 25.5 miles.  I was so close to that blue and yellow line, yet, as I force myself to remember, I was literally worlds away from those who died.

I grieve for the loss of an 8-year old I never knew, and for the others killed by these two brothers.  I can’t imagine the anguish those who had limbs torn off are experiencing, or the pain of those who were hit with shrapnel.  I even feel a little guilt at my relief that my family and friends are OK, when those of so many others are not.

As each day passes though, what I increasingly feel is hope.  Hope that comes from seeing people like my sister run to the victims instead of running away to safety.  Hope that sprang from the spontaneous memorial that popped up at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley and the interfaith service held there on the following Sunday.  Even a popular Boston-based website that often caters to the worst of the collective male Id sold some wicked awesome t-shirts and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the victims.  That’s good news for everyone.

I especially have hope knowing that there are people like Deacon Rodgers in the world.  How could you not be hopeful knowing that there are people out there who can find love in their hearts even for those who have caused so much pain and sorrow?

I don’t hate Dzhokhar.  I’m angry at him, I’m relieved he will likely be spending the rest of his days behind bars, and I’m glad that I got to celebrate with so many of my fellow Bostonians the night he was captured.  I even pity him, I guess, but I don’t love him. At the same time, I am jealous that Deacon Rodgers does.

In the closing of his letter to Dzhokhar, the good deacon says, “Somehow your sin was turned for good, and my community and the people I love will only be stronger in the end.”  I hope, and pray, that he is right.