Tikkun Olam & the Boston Bombs
By Jet L.
On Monday, April 15, 2013, I was standing at my desk, taking one of my many peeks at Google News throughout the work day, when I spied a headline about an explosion at the Marathon. Instantly I interrupted a conversation near me and blurted this aloud to my staff. We were six eyes to the computer screen for the rest of the afternoon. For the next week, I checked Google News on my phone more times than I care to admit. When it was seemingly over, I collapsed on the Saturday after the younger brother’s capture – puzzled over why it had impacted me so viscerally.
When I read the first headline, I had just left Cambridge a few hours earlier and was now two hours away. A HAI friend was running the race; another HAI friend (her bf) was waiting in the hotel near the finish line. As soon as I determined that both of them and my sweetie (in Cambridge) were safe, I felt calmer. I kept watching the headlines in the ensuing hours and days – we all wondered: Who had done this? Was there a political group claiming responsibility?
Several days later, when the photos of the two suspects were circulated, who could have anticipated the events that ensued over the next two days? The hardest moment for me was learning that Boston was on lock down and that I couldn’t just drive into Cambridge pick up my daughter and bring her home to the western part of the state. I regretted not picking her up after the first two explosions.
Where did this take me? As a trauma survivor (from adolescence), I have worked with various aspects of PTSD in my experience of life over many years. My inclination is to assume or predict a lack of safety. Suddenly here was real lack of safety, not just bracing for possible lack of safety. The one thing I’ve prided myself on is keeping my daughter safer than my parents kept me. When she turned 20 and hadn’t been violated, as I had been as a teen, I felt I had earned an honorary badge that no one could see but which was blazoned on my imaginary lapel. This badge was more important to me than any other ‘achievement.’ But now, the child I had shepherded safely to the age of maturity, was texting me from her Cambridge dorm, about how the sirens, blaring outside her window, were scary. We were texting each other between midnight and 2:30 am — no one knew why an MIT officer was shot or that this was related to the bombing. No one knew why the officer had been killed and why suddenly there was major ‘heat’ in Watertown.
What puzzles me in the wake of last week’s events and the terrible fabric of tragedies throughout this period, is why I would feel it so physically….so physically, that Saturday after the younger brother was caught, I cancelled my plans for the entire day and just hung out at home staring listlessly at the walls. Anyone who knows me knows I pack more in a day than many others pack in a week. I’m constantly on the go, doing things, accomplishing things, involved in projects and invested in each moment of the day. Suddenly I was just feeling tearful, winded like someone had sucker punched me and feeling somewhat desolate about our existence on the planet. I have had more thoughts about divesting myself of email addresses and electronic gadgets and living off the grid than I have ever had in my life.
My reaction was puzzling because, after learning of the initial explosions, I was able to quickly determine the safety of all those in my close family and friendship circle. Even four days later, when everyone was asked to ‘shelter in place,’ I knew my adult child was on the fourth floor of a stone dormitory so strong and so well guarded that it comes as close to a fortress as any building in Cambridge that I can think of.
If I sit deeply with myself, I would have to say that the sudden feelings of lack of safety and the question that ran like an incessant ticker tape across my mind (‘what do I do next to be safe’) (or have my child be safe) were feelings that felt reminiscent of my childhood. My parents’ behavior toward each other drew police cars to our home on a regular basis. These were the days before the term ‘domestic violence’ was even a term in popular usage. The feeling of cringing and wondering where I could hide from whatever danger was ‘out there’ was palpable and familiar.
Flash-forward, many decades later, I am reminded that, when violence erupts, it is never really sudden. There are roots, if one knows where to dig, going back years and, even, generations. While violence is a surprise in the moment that it pops, to the studied eye it is simply the flower on something that has been growing for a long time. We can understand when we look over our shoulder and dare to look.
I had a long conversation with a friend whom I’ve known since our days in high school. She very wisely said: “The answer isn’t in solving international dilemmas. The answer is that each of us, in our own communities, must help the outsider, the disenfranchised, the ones who feel they have no friends, the ones whose angers simmer with the hurt.” She said if, in every community, we focused on our own “others” – those we walk by, we criticize in our minds, those whose hurt will not likely find voice in front of the Room of Love, and each of these “cells” will join to a much more connected fabric of human belonging where anonymous bombing in the name of a holy rage will be far less common.”
Even as I write this, I understand that, when violence erupts, it’s so upsetting that, regardless of how often we tell ourselves that these matters are complex, we still seek to find an answer which helps us also tell us we’re somehow in control and not as out of control as we felt in the midst the destructive turmoil. A child assumes, simply, that they’re ‘bad’ and maybe a community does this too – how did this young men live in our midst, we ask ourselves. How did they go to our schools and yet see us as ‘other’ enough to seek to kill and maim anonymous others who were seeking glory in purposeful, joyful athletic event?
The Saturday after the arrest of the younger brother, I felt a greater ease about the safety of Boston. But I was left with the aftertaste of the reminder of random/sudden violence that changes your perspective on what/where/who/how is safe and what is not. Is it safe to ‘enjoy’, to relax, to read a book, play a piece of music. If one is not vigilant and worried about ‘something’ – is that when the bomb falls? This is where lack of safety takes me. I overwork, sure that nothing will take me by surprise if I am vigilant.
I do admire those who can witness evil and let it wash over them, off their backs and down the drains. Those whose mission and goals are so rooted in their actions that nothing stops them, not even a city hunting down bombs and bombers. I, on the other hand, digest evil — I seem to find a fascination in understanding it, looking at it from this perspective and that. Asking ‘why.’
I remember, once, meeting with a client and witnessing her behavior with her pre-verbal child. She was a drug addict and I was taking mental note for the child abuse/neglect report I would need to make in an hour’s time. I remember thinking as she incessantly missed her baby’s cues, made him frustrated, caused him to cry and then humiliated him — that this was a disturbed or violent person in the making. I was witnessing the emotional torture of a child who, without therapy, would be like a plant pinned to a bent metal stake.
Ultimately, I know that what caused the man to rape me in my teens was a history of violence and disturbed communications and errant neurotransmitters and that this was a brew that had been steeping from before I was born. I could not have changed history. This was not my personal fate, but, rather, the fate of any person who was in his path at the wrong time, with no one looking.
And, much as we might try to fashion the right prevention for what happened in Boston, the sad truth is that the next bomber is being built right now, here or elsewhere– by experiences, at home and at school, in houses of worship and on the street — as much as what built me to make good and digest/eliminate evil, so, too, outside of our control, are children who are, unconsciously, bitterly, blindingly, being raised to have an evil perspective with regard to right/wrong, human connection/otherness. I am thinking that, in middle age, I see the point of “tikkun olam” — each of us doing our part to repair the world. But we must understand that, just as we work to repair, a new tear is being torn in the fabric of humanity. It is a never-ending process. We don’t win a race or a war. We keep running toward the best, most positive goal we can envision.
So, how did this experience in Boston affect me? I am thinking about my difficulties letting down my guard (in general, predating this event). I want to find a way to make a deal with my inner child — yes, violence is ‘out there’ and, sadly, we can’t predict where it will erupt. And just because one escaped a violent childhood and adolescence doesn’t give you a hall pass to skip the other ills of society. I will seek a balance: to enjoy life more, because why else be alive; to help others to heal and to heal myself (since there will always be tears at the fabric of humanity and community) and not to rush to assume one understands – to keep asking questions.