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:
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
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.
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