My seven year old son wants to run a marathon. He came up with it on his own, his response to the Boston Marathon Bombings. My son and daughter got home from school on the day after the attack and I asked them if they had heard anybody at school talking about Boston. I asked them if they wanted to talk about it. Neither of them wanted to talk about it. My daughter ran upstairs to get some toys.
They had heard the news the day before. We had already talked about it. I couldn’t turn off the radio. I sat by it in a vigil of breaking news. I went into shock. I was gripped with overwhelming sorrow for the families that were ripped apart by the pressure cooker bombs. Lucky for us all, I don’t watch the news on the TV. My children didn’t see any of the grisly images. But I couldn’t hide sound of it. I listened to NPR and surfed the web at a furious pace. (I don’t want to know how many hits CNN.com must have from my computer.) I explained it as well as I could. I reassured them our friends were safe. I told them it was an isolated event and it was over. I did not tell them how bad it was. I tried not to show them how upset I was. I said that the people who were hurt were getting the best medical treatment and that we would find out who did it. They asked “Why?” I told them that I didn’t know. But that the person who did it was very, very, sick.
How could someone be so evil, so inhumane? I couldn’t even believe it. I cried for the victims and the survivors and wished a heinous death upon the perpetrators. Why would they want to maim so many people? Not just death and destruction, but permanent physical deformity built for maximum damage. I couldn’t get the phantom feeling of BB’s shooting through my legs out of my mind. I couldn’t believe how many people lost limbs. I cried for all of them. I cried for the people who will forever have pieces of shrapnel embedded in their bodies. I thought of my grandfather I never really knew. A bomb exploded beneath him when he was a paratrooper in WWII. He almost lost his legs. This is what has just happened to hundreds of people cheering in the warm gentle springtime sun. It was like a war zone. This was downtown Boston not Kabul. This wasn’t WWII.
Boston holds a soft spot in my heart and in my household. We spend a lovely vacation there only two springs ago. One of our best friends lives in Cambridge. We talked about Boston often. We have planned what we will do the next time we are in Boston. Springtime in Boston was just beautiful. I had wished that we were going to Boston again this year, this spring. I imagined myself there again and again. Did we walk down that very street? I tried to remember. We had walked all over the town. The explosions rocked me. I felt the shock wave as I heard the news. I was so horrified and enraged that any “person” could inflict such damage to human life. How? Why? I felt only rage towards the unknown attackers.
I tried to keep it together in front of the kids. I reminded them that if they had any questions about it, that they could ask me. You can ask me anything.
My son piped up, “oh, I have a question. Did it happen at a marathon?”
“Yes,” I responded gravely.
“Okay. What’s a marathon?” he asked next. I nearly laughed. It was such a relief after all the stress.
“A marathon is a really, really, long race.” I explained.
He only considered it for a second. “I want to run a marathon Mom.”
“Okay, honey,” I said, my eyes filling with tears. What a kid. I entertained fevered ideas of running in the Boston Marathon myself. Somehow my overweight self would transform in only a year to run 26 miles for all of those who couldn’t run again. Boston wasn’t going to be broken by these bombs. The good would outweigh the evil and we would find those responsible. We will have out vengeance, life in jail, worse.
Then the FBI released the grainy photos of the suspects. I watched the eerie videos and felt my skin crawl. The two men moving through the crowd with innocuous backpacks looked guilty. I was glad that the FBI had the video and my continual distrust of Big Brother was slackened. There was no way these jerks were going to escape. Not now, not in 2013. With all of our cellphones and iPads and video surveillance cameras, they couldn’t hide for long. The facial recognition software was whirring away and the internet was zinging. We would find these evil men and exact our revenge. I shared the FBI website on my Facebook page.
Thursday night I had gone to bed, angry and anxious, stuck on a news buzz. I dreamt that my cat had lost his leg in a freak amputation. I awoke to the news that Suspect 1 was dead and Suspect 2 was fleeing. I felt so relieved, so happy. They found them. We found them. But then the story began to unravel for me. They gave these monsters a name. And one of them had the face of a child. My hatred bled away. I only had shock and sorrow left. I had never expected to feel empathy for one of these killers. But as I looked at the undated picture of 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev I was overwhelmed. This was a child. What happened to him? I wanted him alive. I didn’t expect to feel these waves of sorrow to wash over me. My emotions surprised me. I only felt sad for this child. I had no hate. Granted, I don’t personally know anyone that was maimed and lost a life, maybe it would be different if I did. But as a person who followed the story intently, worried and cried over the victims, I never expected such empathy towards a terrorist.
I looked at the picture of this crazed man-child, Jahar. I listened to the fire fight on the radio. I wondered what the hell happened. More and more details trickled out. His friends said he was friendly and well-liked. His high school teachers said he was a good student. His neighbors were shocked. He was still just a teenager. I have considered 19 year olds children for a long time. Teenager brains are not fully formed at 19. I have often espoused this belief. He didn’t seem like pure evil anymore. I didn’t hate him like I had expected to. Something was wrong with this kid, something bad happened to him, someone made him this way. His older brother was dead. There were no answers to be found there. Dead men tell no tales and kids on the lam are hard to track.
Hundreds of cops searched for this teenager who was bleeding to death slowly. Somehow he evaded them for several hours. Jahar got away and hid for nearly an entire day. The police force went door to door but he wasn’t there. He lay bleeding in boat while the city waited on baited breath. He was taken alive, but only because he was barely alive. He physically couldn’t fight anymore, he was dying. They loaded him up and took him to the same hospital that still housed his victims. Boston and American cheered. I cried.
Why? What happened? What turned him bad? I ached for the families that now had to be in the same hospital with this young man that inflicted such senseless carnage on them only days ago. I felt sick for the doctors that were now treating the man who killed and maimed the people they had worked ceaselessly to save, some of which still languished in uncertain states of health. But I don’t hate Jahar. I hope he recovers. I worry about the hospital staff. What is it like for them? How is everyone coping? I am over 500 miles away and I am shaken. But I still don’t consider 19 year olds to be adults. He was just a good kid gone bad, gone worse, gone violently insane. Of course he is mentally ill. Sane people don’t kill people.
This story isn’t over. In many ways it has just begun. The healing process is going to be long and arduous. The physical wounds will heal long before the emotional scars will. The trial is going to be hard on the survivors and their families. It’s going to be hard to get a fair jury that isn’t biased. But it is a right that Jahar deserves. There must be more than enough evidence to convict him in this day and age of constant contact. It’s not just what evidence the Police have. There’s all that was caught on the cameras and phones of hundreds of people and dozens of buildings. You can’t doctor all of those pictures. For some reason this young man lost his mind and his morals and blew up Boston. By all means keep him locked up. But I truly am sad. He was just a college student, a child, before he became a coldblooded murderer. What happened? Why? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the only one who could answer that question. I hope that he will.
I guess we will have to start training if my son is going to run a marathon. It’s all that we can do. Look into the face of evil and fear and danger and keep on running.