The explosions at the Boston Marathon that injured so many and took the lives of three people, including an eight-year-old boy, came as yet another shock, following so closely as they have on the heels of Hurricane Sandy and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. These are events that weigh on us, that force us to reconsider our world once more. Events like these weigh particularly on school leaders, chaplains, and clergy who are called to be the voice of the community, to center and console us, and to help the grown-ups attend to the needs and concerns of children. Sadly, many of us have all too much experience in this department.
It has been twelve years since the World Trade Towers were attacked. As a Brooklynite, I often pass Ground Zero as I travel into Manhattan. In the past twelve years, I have watched the site transform from twisted debris to the ever-slow rising of the memorial and now the Freedom Tower, almost finished, a shimmering geometry of glass that can be seen from across the Brooklyn Bridge.
And yet I cannot bring myself to go to the memorial or to step onto that ground. For me, it will always be the holy ground of that terrible day and the weeks and months afterwards as those of us in Lower Manhattan continued to smell the smoke, attend memorial services, ease worries and fears about another event, and take care of those for whom that event was forever seared into their consciousness.
The past twelve years have perhaps allowed us to begin to believe that something would not happen again. Potential attacks were foiled, weren’t they? The “shoe bomber” and the attempt in Times Square. If we “see something, say something.” Bomb dogs and personnel with automatic weapons are a regular presence in my daily trip through Grand Central Terminal. We take off our shoes and belts and raise our hands over our heads in scanning machines. And no longer can citizens simply wander into the Capitol building to see their elected officials at work. Surely, we are safe.
And yet Boston reminds us that our lives are fragile and that no amount of protective actions, however prudent and necessary, can stop all events and the actions of a committed few. These are matters, in the end, of heart and mind and conscience. We are confronting what is, ultimately, a very human problem that humans must solve. And the question in my mind is: will we someday find ourselves in a place where these events, whether in the United States, London, Spain, Iraq, or India become historic artifacts, events about which teachers will say to their students, “there was a time when people killed others in public places and it was called terrorism.”
How might that happen? I do not know the answer. I do know that those of us in schools have the obligation to help our students confront and grapple with these issues so that, perhaps, they can be part of such an evolution. And we also have the responsibility to allow and encourage them to find beauty, joy, and love in their lives so that they can move into the future with a sense of hope and promise and not be paralyzed by fear or their hearts overtaken by hate.
We human beings have a very dark side. It has come out over the ages in different ways, and each time we have suffered at our own expense. Lives in Boston are forever changed. Boston is forever changed. Eventually, their Freedom Tower will rise. But no new building or new security protocol will ease the hurt or take away the memory of that day. But care, love, patience, connection, and prayer can ease the way and perhaps help us to move forward into a better way and a day when we need not mourn yet once more.