“And they lived happily ever after…”
It’s the most human of hopes: that the story will always end well. That when the last page is finally turned, everything works out and makes sense. A happy ending. Questions are answered. Mysteries are solved. The hero or heroine triumphs and beats the bad guy, who always pays for his sins. The grief stricken heal and their tears are wiped away. Peace returns to the land.
“And they lived happily ever after….”
If only life, real life, was like this. If only life provided us with clear and unambiguous beginnings and endings. It’s only human to crave this kind of narrative for our lives, our stories, and our world. To pray to God that in the end, the good always wins and the bad always loses. Justice prevails. Life is fair.
That’s the kind of ending I was hoping for recently on the day I heard that the jury in the Boston Marathon Bombing trial had handed down a final sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. That day I guess I wanted to believe that somehow, when a verdict had finally been rendered, there might be a kind of final satisfaction in its announcement. A communal catharsis. A collective sigh of relief. Clarity. Maybe even closure.
But now weeks later, it feels to me that an “ending”, especially a satisfactory ending for an event so real as the Marathon bombing: it’s just not possible. Not right now. What happened on Boylston Street more than 770 days ago on a sunny spring afternoon is still too close, almost like it happened just yesterday. It’s still too raw, absolutely, for those who had a loved one snatched away in the microsecond of a bomb blast. It’s still too real for those who lost a limb or sight or hearing or any sense of normalcy. It’s still too scary for those traumatized as they ran or watched the race. It’s still too immediate for those who rushed into the maelstrom to help the wounded. It’s still too haunting for jury members who saw the price of human evil up close, face to face, and then were charged with the task of choosing life or death.
April 15th, 2013: that day will always be with them and us. It is important for us as a community to honor this reality. The pain may soften and the trauma lessen. The memories will begin to fade. The media coverage about the bombing has already begun to dwindle down and our hyper kinetic news cycle is already rushing on to the next big. But closure? The end? For those close to the blast--physically, emotionally, spiritually-- only they and the God of their understanding can ultimately figure out when it is time to begin to move on.
That’s an important lesson to remember, especially in our culture which instead seems to be forever ready to move on to the next big thing. We live in a media landscape which demands that everything be pithily summed up in a sound bite or headline. We worship a god called “Google” that has an answer for everything, right? We participate in social media that’s addicted to instant opinion.
But real life cannot ever be summed up into such tidy endings.
Instead the story of human life is messy and amazing, ragged and sharp, beautiful and awful, terrible and miraculous. Even as we race to the finish line, it is the race, and not the ending, which matters the most. If there is any partial coda to the story of the Boston Marathon bombing, maybe it is one about endurance of the kind practiced by the long distance runner. The runner who runs to finish, but more important who runs for the profound challenge of the journey. The one who runs to face into his pain, exhaustion and struggle, who hits “the wall” and then keeps on going with courage and grit. The athlete who stumbles, falls even, but then wills her self to get back up and carry on.
The race of human life always continues.
So even as the world moves on and that April Monday recedes into the distance, I pray that God will remind us that many still run that marathon. A proud old city which has come back but will never forget. The grieving who weep and now use their broken hearts to work for peace in honor of the dead. The wounded who bear scars that won’t ever heal. The rescuers who risked their lives and still do today.
It’s not about the finish line. It is about the race.