Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boston: Before and After in An Age of Terror

Terror (noun) 1.intense, sharp, overmastering fear; any period of frightful violence or bloodshed; violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion.
--Random House Dictionary

Before. After.  Life before the bombings in Boston eight days ago. Life after the bombs.    

After the killing of one suspect and the capture of another.  After the four bombing victims who died have been buried and properly mourned. After the 264 injured have all been discharged from hospitals.  After the thousands traumatized begin their struggle to find a “new normal”, whatever that is. After 24/7 news coverage abates and we tear ourselves away from second by second updates. 

After five days in April, just 102 hours, from a perfect spring afternoon at the finish line on Boston’s Boylston Street at 2:49 pm on Monday, to 8:43 pm on a chilly Friday night on Watertown’s Franklin Street.

Before. After. What now? What’s next?

This choice is really up to each of us as citizens, as humans, as children of God: how to live in an age of terror in 2013.  An “age of terror”. Some will label this phrase as overly dramatic, hyperbolic, but the truth is that the greater Boston area is now one of “those places”, shattered by an act of terrorism.  Realities which once seemed so improbable, so impossible, came true.  That the bombs exploded in such a beautiful and seemingly safe setting, at a storied and beloved civic celebration, in a peaceful urban neighborhood, is exactly what makes it all so terrible, so terror inducing.

Some won’t get or understand this. Folks far enough away that the bombings are more about headlines and news flashes than real life.  Some folks will relativize the event, compare it in equal terms to all acts of terror around the world. On some intellectual level I get that argument. But still, as one who was only on the periphery of the bomb blasts and the frantic manhunt (no one I know died or was hurt): even at that far distance I’m still shaken up. Still on edge.  Still trying to work it all through. 

Before. After.  How to carry on?

After…I pray that this one act of terror will not make us so afraid that we become suspicious or malicious towards anyone who looks different than us, prays differently to God than us, comes from a different country than us, or speaks with a different accent than us.  Boston is a world class city because we’ve always tried to be a hub for immigrants, any and all who seek the same things that we strive for: human freedom, a generous welcome and the chance to prosper. 

Boston: don’t let terror close our doors or hearts.

After…I pray that in our rush to bring to justice the guilty and protect ourselves, we will not sacrifice the basic American civil liberties and legal rights which were born right here 238 years ago. If the Patriot’s Day bombing tempts us to embrace a promise of “security” at the cost of any of the human liberties our forebears in Concord and Lexington sacrificed to win with their blood, we will all lose.

Boston: don’t let terror shred the Constitution or any of the true patriotic ideals we so rightly and proudly claim as our own.

After…I pray that the amazing and miraculous sense of community we experienced--Boston Strong—may it somehow echo forward and not just fade away as a cherished but forgotten memory. Boston is far from a perfect place. Our drivers are crazy.  Our accents are inscrutable.  Our communal personality can be as cold and sharp and hard as our weather.  But for one shining week it all felt like we shared common hopes and common love and a common home. 

We were at our best: cops protecting us, first responders rushing into the melee, doctors and nurses and EMTs saving lives and limbs, neighbors checking in, houses of worship filling up.  That is truly Boston strong.

Boston: please don’t forget those five days in April.

Before. After.  Terror may have come here but it is now up to each of us to not let it claim the victory. 

Oh, oh, Boston you’re my home. You’re our home. Before and after.


  1. Boston probably feels like Cleveland, John. no one wants to talk about it, but we have a death by gunfire at least 5 times a week. we like in fear, like you said, and the only anti-dote to fear is faith . . . which really leads us to actively pursue peace-n-justice, and community organizing. hopefully the faith communities in Boston are becoming energized.
    All the best friend.

  2. Wise words Doug. These are strange days here and remind us that violence is all too common in so many other places in the world. Working hard on peace building--your work serves as an inpiration to me! Be well my friend.