When you move to Boston there are three things that you must accept—you are forever a member of Red Sox Nation, you’ll never get used to someone passing you in the breakdown lane on Route 128 and the Boston Marathon is what we really celebrate on Patriot’s Day. I live half a block from the marathon route—on Heartbreak Hill—and I must confess that every year I feel claustrophobic anticipating that I won’t be able to cross Commonwealth Avenue by car. But my love-hate relationship with the marathon, my angst over feeling penned in, evaporates when I watch the runners go by.
The marathon route begins in Hopkinton and wends its way through the suburbs of Boston—Framingham, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before crossing the finishing line in Boston’s Back Bay. By the time the majority of runners reach me, they’re approaching the 20-mile mark—Heartbreak Hill.
This year I watched the runners go by in the early afternoon—the height of the marathon on my little stretch of the race. Where I live, the marathon is a party. People bring picnics and watch the race on folding chairs. We look for the names of runners on their shirts or written in black magic marker on their arms. Go, Margaret. Last hill, Bob. Every year I am in awe.
This year, I watched my fifteen year-old son clap and whoop for every runner. He’s a runner too and thinks nothing of taking a five mile run. I am, at the moment, training myself to go around the block in the hope that I can run a 5k road race this summer. I’m almost halfway around my block without stopping. Heartbreak Hill, indeed.
By four o’clock in the afternoon, the 2013 Boston Marathon was no more. Commonwealth Avenue was empty save for the occasional police car and yellow school bus picking up stranded runners. Not again, I thought. Oklahoma City, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown. And 9/11. Please God, not again. London, Madrid, Jerusalem.
I am a compulsive reader. A Kaddish reader. After 9/11, I gazed into the eyes of every victim and read their accompanying word portraits. Lives thrust into the news, engraved in our hearts. Their memories for a blessing. I’ve said that too often for people I’ve never met, but somehow are not strangers to me.
It is deeply disturbing to live so close to an act of terrorism that happens during such a quotidian event. My teenager and his friend didn’t take the T to the finish line because of inertia—easier to hang out in our suburb. Yet he’s cultivating his independence and one of the ways he’s learning to do that is getting around Boston on public transportation. After last Monday, how do I keep him safe? How do I help him stand down fear?
The day after the bombing, I was glued to the television and radio. “The sadness here in Boston is palpable,” said one reporter. Everyone who called in or was interviewed was testifying about something—their love for Boston, their relief that a loved one made it safely across the finish line, their dream of completing the marathon cruelly derailed. People were stunned and grateful that they were in Back Bay at the right time and the right place. Each one of them mourned for the victims. For eight year-old Martin Richard who loved riding his bike and playing ball, who hoped for peace after the Newtown shootings. Martin Richard, everyone’s child. For 29 year-old Krystal Campbell cut down in the prime of her life.
Over 180 injured people—many of them seriously—flooded the emergency rooms in downtown Boston. Any one of them could have been my friend who crossed the finish line 15 minutes before the bombs went off or his wife who was cheering him on a few yards from the explosion. There but for the grace of God go my friends. Boston was a huge shiva house—quiet, heavy and grief-stricken where the Psalm of Consolation, as my rabbi observes, seems to be “patently untrue.”
For the Guardian of Israel
Neither slumbers nor sleeps…
The Lord shall keep you from all evil…
The Lord shall guard your going out and your coming in,
From this time forth and forever.
And yet for me the psalm has the potential to offer solace in the same way that the Mourner’s Kaddish praises God and doesn’t say a single word about death.
Sometimes, though, I think this God of ours is too demanding of our loyalty without giving much in return. I can’t depend on God to keep my children safe. Or can I? Do we devise our fate or is it pre-ordained?
A bomb goes off. Three dead and almost 200 wounded. The great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote how the lives of these dead and wounded increase the radius of a bomb’s crater. If that’s the case, then the diameter of the bombs that went off in Boston stretched across the world. And in the wake of our tragedy, the truest words I have to offer are Yehuda Amichai’s:
The Radius of the Bomb
The radius of the bomb was twelve inches
And the radius of its effective force seven yards
Containing four dead and eleven wounded.
And around those, in a wider circle
Of pain and time, are scattered two hospitals
And one graveyard. But the young woman,
Buried in the place she came from,
Over a hundred kilometers from here,
Widens the circle quite a bit,
And the lonely man mourning her death
In the provinces of a Mediterranean land,
Includes the whole world in the circle.
And I shall omit the scream of orphans
That reaches God’s throne
And way beyond and widens the circle
To no end and no God.