Today my daughters return to school after a spring vacation week like no other in their short life histories. Exactly one week after the Boston Marathon bombings. Somehow Bostonians are venturing back into their lives, altered by the recent events in ways that are hard to yet define. Friends and acquaintances participated in the marathon in one way or another—as runners, roadside spectators, or observers from home or office. The Boston Marathon. Red Sox. Patriot’s Day. A spring rite of passage unique to Massachusetts where kids get a day off to kick back and enjoy. No obligations to church, temples or parades. Just local fun and games. Now a little boy is dead; and his mother, a member of our town’s local women’s fitness club, and his little sister, are severely injured.
Josie turned 13 this week, ushering in a new era for her sense of identity, and mine as well. How was I to make the girls’ spring break one of celebration amidst chaos? As the events unfolded and Boston was pulled into a drama unlike any in our recent history I found myself having to chuck the newspapers before the girls awoke, listen to NPR on the sly and in small doses, struggling to make sense of it all.
On Facebook, the photo of Mister Rogers circulated with his motto that when bad things happen to think about all the helpers. But when so many of the helpers are SWAT teams, armed FBI, local police and state troopers, or brave fans holding the bloody injured, the images are hard to reconcile with our notions of help. Comfort? Solace?
Yes, all the helpers. God bless them all.
Back in the safety of our homes many of us were either fixated on the media or valiantly trying to minimize its constant intrusion. Most of us were trying to do regular things with the children. Like feeding the neighbor’s cats while that family was blissfully vacationing, or raking up the leaves to reveal the trumpeting daffodils, or watching my older teenager attempt to sunbathe in the backyard under a chilly sun while reading Romeo and Juliet for her English class.
Most telling for me was when Sophie anticipated an oft used (if empty) phrase I am guilty of: “Statistically, events like this are very rare.”
“Mom, you can’t say things like this happen once a decade. What about the Aurora movie theater? What about Sandy Hook?” Right. Schools, movie theaters, streets of beloved cities. The very places our children live and play.
Indeed, Sandy Hook was devastating for me as I grew up in a neighboring hamlet in Connecticut and have a number of high school friends who are raising families in Newtown. And now: Boston. The world seems ever so small. That the US senate failed to pass the gun legislation this past week was another heartbreak—for the Newtown families and for us—yet overshadowed by our local drama. The tragic consequences of that failure will be great, considering that tens of thousands of people die each year from gunshots.
We can’t tune out the realities of violence in our world. Nor can we forget that simple joys exist. In fact, we need to seek them out. Purposely.
As my little one celebrated her birthday on Friday night with her chums, the intrusion of the final chapter in the manhunt unfolded. Several of the girls had their cell phones in hand while dancing and singing, reporting back on updates, even after my failed attempts at turning off the TV. “They found the guy. They found the guy!” Eventually they all fell asleep in a heap among sleeping bags. The next morning the girls wandered outside and plucked daffodils at the edges of neighboring yards. “No, we didn’t go into people’s gardens, Mrs. Cousineau!”
Josie’s actual birthday was on Sunday. And yes we all had to go to church. No easy outs. If anything, we needed the structure of the four walls of the simple white clapboard church and to be among a community in mourning.