Vulnerability

The tragedy at the Boston Marathon really, really bothered me. Which, obviously, it should have. It was so awful, so senseless, so horrific. It made me mad, sad, full of grief for those affected, horrified, stupefied as to why anyone would do this to another person, and so many more emotions I can’t even describe. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it.

It wasn’t just that it makes me so dang mad that someone would hurt innocent people who were just enjoying the day and celebrating with those who ran in this iconic event, which it did. It wasn’t just that it was so horrific and senseless, which it was. It wasn’t just that our daughter’s good friend lives in Boston and was running in the marathon on Monday and that we were concerned for her safety, which we were. (We couldn’t get ahold of her for a while and were really worried about her. She’s fine, having run the race in 3h 14m 07s, but we didn’t know where she was in relation to the blast zone and if she was safe.) This tragedy bothered me on so many levels that it took me a few days to sort it out.

As I thought about it, I realized that it really touched a nerve of very personal vulnerability, one that goes back to Jason’s death. It made me feel so vulnerable. We tend to think that tragedy happens to “other people.” Until WE are those “other people” whose children die. Until WE are the family touched by tragedy. Until WE are that country where bombs go off in crowded places and kills and harms innocent bystanders.

I recently read a poem written by By Madelaine Perri Kasden:

OTHER PEOPLE

Every so often,
you hear about other people
losing their child.
Sometimes there is a horrible accident
you find out about on television.
Sometimes it is a senseless murder or suicide
you read about in the newspaper.
Sometimes you learn about a deadly illness over
the telephone because, this time,
he child belongs to someone you know

When such a tragedy happens,
to other people,
your heart goes out to them.
You feel deeply saddened and perhaps,
you shed a few tears.
You then continue your charmed life,
going about business as usual.
You don’t forget, but,
you don’t necessarily remember either.
After all, the death of a child
is something that occurs in the lives
of other people.

Unless, God forbid,
the television story or newspaper article or
telephone call
is about your child.
Unless, one terrible day,
heaven and earth and hell become one.
Unless your life loses all meaning and
nothing makes sense anymore.
Suddenly,
by a random twist of fate, or the hand of God,
you have become other people.

By Madelaine Perri Kasden

Before Jason died, I was one of those people who felt like the death of a child was something that happened to “other people.” Tragedy happened to “other people.” I was like a teenager marching through life, feeling invincible. I prayed for my family. I was sure beyond a doubt that God heard my prayers and would protect my family. Terrible tragedies happened to people in other places; great tragedy would never touch me or happen to me.

But it did. My child died. And it made me feel so incredibly vulnerable. I was not protected from tragedy. I was not immune. We were ordinary people, doing ordinary things, living our ordinary daily lives.

I became “that person” whose child died. Jason was taken from us by the actions of someone else, a drunk driver. I felt like someone ripped my entire chest open, leaving my most inner self bare, raw, and exposed to unbelievable grief and pain. I became “that person” who no longer was thought of as “Becky.” I became the “mother of Jason, the young man who died in the car accident.” People would whisper to each other about me, point me out to each other. People would avoid me, look right through me as if they didn’t see me. I became a grieving mess, a lonely pariah who struggled to get through the day. I was touched by tragedy, changed by the death of my child. I had to learn to “find a new normal,” find a way to weave Jason’s loss into my life, find a way to learn to walk again without Jason in this life. My life became divided into “before” and “after” by that stark moment of vulnerability when Jason died.

Those people in Boston were ordinary people experiencing a wonderful slice of Americana at the iconic Boston Marathon. In a split second of vulnerability, the security that tragedy happens to “someone else” was taken from them; it was robbed from them by a terrorist’s actions. They are now people whose lives are affected by this tragedy forever, and they will never be the same. Their lives will be divided in so many ways into “before” and “after” by that stark moment of vulnerability when that bomb went off, when some lost dear family members, when some lost limbs and will have to learn to walk again in a new manner, when some witnessed a horrific scene of human suffering that will forever be burned into their memories. It all happened to ordinary people in one split moment of vulnerability.

And when something like the bomb blasts in Boston or some other tragedy happens, it touches a nerve deep inside me and I feel incredibly vulnerable all over again. It makes me feel anxious and restless, almost the the point of being panic-y. Because, as a parent whose child has died, I know all too well that it can be just one split moment in time from MY child is alive and well…to the moment when tragedy has happened and MY child is gone. There’s no going back, no way to change what’s happened. Jason died when he was broadsided by a drunk driver who was going more than twice the speed limit. Three people died in Boston at the hands of a terrorist. Beautiful, innocent children died in Newtown. People died in an explosion in Texas.

As much as we’d like to think we are immune from tragedy, we really aren’t. I wish we could be, but we’re not. As long as we live in an imperfect world, we are not immune from the possibility of becoming that “other person” that has been touched by tragedy. And that’s why I felt so vulnerable – all over again – when I heard of the Boston tragedy.

I don’t know why tragedies hit some people and not others; or, as the title to Harold S. Kushner’s book says, why “Bad Things Happen to Good People.” I don’t know why things happen the way they do. I pray for the protection of my family and those I know, knowing as I do now that we don’t live in a perfect world and that none of us are truly immune and that we are vulnerable to tragedy. I pray for those I know who are going through grief as they have never known before. I pray that good will come from what I have experienced and walked through, that what I have to say here will create a greater understanding for those who deeply grieve. I know that I will see Jason again. I am doing the best I can to rebuild my life and reconstruct my faith. I long to know the security as I once did, with all my heart, that I serve a God who is not untouched by our pain, suffering, and tragedy. I pray and pray for my family, along with saying, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Perhaps we can use this as a reminder of how fleeting life can be and encourage ourselves to really take time to extend comfort, love, and kindness to those within our sphere of influence – our family, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, our acquaintances. Listen to those little “nudges” that seem to come from inside of you, telling you to take time to do something special for someone. We never know when those moments may be gone forever.

My thoughts and prayers are with those people affected by this terrible tragedy in Boston and to those affected by the blast in Texas. I wish I could put my arms around you and show you how much I care. Sending hugs, hugs, and more hugs…

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

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17 thoughts on “Vulnerability

  1. We all live with the illusion of safety and security – until we cross that line and become one of those people who have been struck by tragedy. It is a dividing line that no one can ever imagine crossing. Once you are on the other side, there is no return. Before and after. And trying to grasp how everything changed in a heartbeat (literally) takes the rest of our lives and all of our strength. Thank you for this beautiful post that explains this so well.

  2. The “Before” and “After” have changed my way of viewing a lot of things. Most of the time I get a sick feeling in the stomach just thinking about watching the news. Mostly, I don’t anymore. So sad. It makes me constantly think, “Why?”

  3. Rebecca, thank you for visiting my blog and reading my poem, “Perseverance” I immediately went to your blog and read this post. I am so sorry for you loss, both of Jason, and your sense of balance in this life. It broke my heart. Thank you for sharing your grief,and your growth, in such a vulnerable write. I want to invite you to read a post I made yesterday on my other blog in hopes that it can provide you some “companionship in your grief”..the knowledge that you are not alone and that you are making a difference with your writing. I will have you in my thoughts a lot this week and beyond.
    You can read my post at: http://insightsandobservations.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/we-are-the-mercy-we-seek/
    Love to you,

    Dennis

  4. I think it must be natural to empathize very closely with the families affected by the marathon tragedy. You KNOW how people are feeling, and that must be very painful–all over again! The poem is very moving and i’m glad you shared your feelings at this time. This week’s events have served as reminder to all of us as to how fragile a thread it can be before any one of us becomes “other people.” Bless you!

  5. So true. Excellent post!! Last night we went to one of Vic’s friends 40th birthday parties, and two of the women there said “Oh, you are Vic’s mom…I also lost a child…You will get over it” My immediate reaction was “but you have other children…” and almost immediately followed up with “but they were babies…” How could I be so insensitive??

  6. I want to say that I am so sorry for your loss and I pray that somehow God will use what you’ve learned through your loss to bless and encourage those around you. Thank you for your transparency in this post.
    I recently noticed that your are following my blog Pkshouse.wordpress.com. I appreciate you visiting my blog and wanted you to know that I have started a new blog http://www.graceunending.net, and I would love for you to visit me there as well. Have a great weekend!

  7. First of all, I have not shared this experience but I’ve come awfully close with one of my sons. I am so sorry anyone has to experience this kind of heart ache.

    I volunteer with a prison ministry where we, victims of crimes, share our stories with the inmates so they can see how their actions have affected our lives. It is not to judge them, but help them change so they don’t go out and drive drunk anymore, or otherwise drive under the influence. One of the panelists that volunteers with me has been the victim of drunk drivers not once, but twice, and is now paralyzed. So tragic.

    God bless you

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