Yesterday around 2pm, like so, so many people in Boston, I was just off of Boylston Street, watching runners spring, glide, and sometimes stagger to the finish line. I had just taught a class at Equinox right down the street, with a wonderful group of practitioners, and wandered up to Exeter Street, as close as I could get to what was then a steady stream of runners almost home. I was still a block away due to the barricades and equipment, but nevertheless I marveled at all of these dedicated folk, many of whom after mile 26 were moving at a pace I probably couldn’t handle for 26 yards, never mind miles.
In years past I’ve cheered friends and colleagues, but this year I didn’t know anyone in particular; I felt blessed just to take it all in, that tremendous power of spirit, training and determination. Then, after ten minutes or so of watching and cheering, I walked over to the T and went home.
Doubtless, you know the rest of the story by now- the bombs, the terror, the damage. Had I stayed for another while, this post would no doubt look different, and I appreciate, somewhat sheepishly, how lucky I am that I left when I did. As it was I turned on the TV upon getting home and immediately felt horrified, disgusted, and violated.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked those blocks of Boylston Street, from browsing at the Boston Public Library to the old Tower Records, or now Newbury Comics. I remember watching Game 1 of the 2004 World Series (the one with the really strange play at third base) at Vox Populi, now Forum, site of the second blast. Near that site now sits McGreavy’s, a sports nostalgia bar opened by a guy I met at a party a few years ago, formerly of 3rd Base, with a likable obsession with the Red Sox circa 1914. For many years my dad used to valet cars on that block (at Hillary’s, now Abe and Louis’, close to the second blast).
I remember after 9/11 people talking about how violated they felt, and though I’d worked and played music in lower Manhattan, I didn’t quite get that feeling. But let me tell you, right now I feel it, like someone walked into my garden, which I spend countless hours on every summer, kicked down some of my veggies and poisoned the others, and left an unmentionable “present” for good measure. Times ten.
And I get that in the scope of things, my feelings are small potatoes, and should be. Most Bostonians feel something along these lines today. I know many folks much closer to the blast than I. A friend works at one of the hospitals that received victims of yesterday’s attack, and said she’s never seen so much blood in her life. I pray she never will again. I can’t imagine the pain so many are feeling tonight, of friends and parents and children and husbands and wives and lovers whose lives will never be the same, or in three cases never be at all on this plane, simply because they came out to witness and cheer on tremendous triumphs of the human will. Times ten thousand.
For me personally, this feels like the last uppercut of a three punch combo. As many readers of this blog know, last month my dad died after an almost fifteen year battle with cancer and its side effects. And the bombing of my city, my home for most of my life. And, after a tumultuous, on and off three years, the end of a relationship with a woman I thought I was going to marry. I say this, I hope, not for pity or drama, but for context. Like so many, I am acutely sad and angry and shocked and grateful. All at once. I feel sad for my city, and for so many affected in so many heartbreaking ways, but also fortunate that I and my friends and family are safe. I feel grateful for my dad and his amazing life, but frustrated that he’s gone. That said, I find myself thinking, and hearing:
AND? NOW WHAT?
I don’t have any pat answers for a week like this, for death and heartbreak, for needless chaos and tragic heroism. But here’s what I’ll do, and what I’d like to see.
Pray. And meditate. And paint and sing songs and dance. Do whatever you do to send something positive and beautiful out into the world. Many have said this better than I, but I second it. For victims and the families of those gravely affected, and for the runners and spectators and first responders traumatized by what they saw, and for everyone who can’t live the life they have come to rely on because so much of Boston is still an unholy mess. The only way out of something terrible is to embrace something beautiful.
And, hard as it may be, I would ask that you include the perpetrator of these awful acts in your prayers and your metta (lovingkindness), in whatever form it takes. Because I have to believe that to do what these people did means coming from a place of tremendous pain and unease, a madness and a sadness and a pain that I don’t want to comprehend. Not because we want well for them, but because to extend the warmth of humanity to those who would chill it is perhaps the only way to defeat such evil as we’ve just seen. As Dr. King said, “Hate cannot stamp out hate, only love can do that”. When we hate our adversary, they win; when we love them, regardless of the outcome, we win.
I think about the story of Jesus forgiving the criminals he was crucified with. I think about the martyrs in so many traditions who offered themselves to their captors and torturers. I think of Thich Naht Hahn, himself a victim of the terrible war in Vietnam, who opened a talk I heard in early 2002 by saying: “If I met Osama Bin Ladin, I would first listen, and let him explain why he was in so much pain.” (a similar text here) The heroism we saw yesterday and today on Boylston Street by police and runners and ordinary folk is tremendous, and deserves all the accolades. But this is the kind of heroism I aspire to.
Finally, A talked to a friend from far south of here tonight, and we talked about fear. And I said, honestly that no, I’m not afraid. And all over the city tonight, I’ve seen a lot of weary faces, but very little fear. That’s not how we roll here. (I think Dennis Lehane nails it. Have I ever mentioned my dad taught him Latin?) Boston is many things good and ill, a town full of creative imagination, a town that often thinks big and acts small, a little town blown into an almost metropolis. But we don’t cower in the face of struggle here.
So right now, I try to be brave, and try to love regardless, in things small and large. I aspire to love my almost partner, who I care for so dearly and feel so wronged by. And my father, who I love so much but who left a bit of a mess behind him. And mostly these criminals, who at present I hate pretty intensely, and who I want so badly to be prosecuted in some ungodly way. I pray that they can ultimately find the peace necessary to repent, and that I can find enough strength allow my convictions to be bigger than my anger. I pray the same for all of you- peace.