The Death of Innocents


The bombings at the Boston Marathon struck too close to home. I had family visiting Boston that day, and uncles who live just a handful of blocks down the street. A ten-minute stroll to see the race would have caught them up in the mayhem. Boston is a prime destination for the college-bound including my two sons and many of their closest friends. Copley Square, near the blasts, is normally open and peaceful, flanked by the imposing Boston Pubic Library and the ornate brownstone of the Trinity Church. Copley is a place where street vendors ply their wares, protesters shout their demands, lovers walk in the bright sunshine and students read in the open air.

All rent asunder in twin blasts of fire, smoke, nails, blood and torn flesh.

Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who died in the attack, has become the face of the Marathon bombings, no doubt because it is easier to gaze upon his cherubic face than on the gruesome injuries that tore at those who stood near him. His is the face of the innocence that was savaged on that day. The innocence of standing on a street corner, cheering for a friend or loved one who had achieved the dream of finishing a grueling race. The innocence of walking freely in the heart of a great city. The innocence of enjoying the first stirrings of spring, carefree spring, and the hopes of soon shedding the extra layers that had warmed us through winter's chill.

I know that none of us truly innocent. We all have our dark and selfish sides. Even Martin. To be human is a continuous struggle to overbalance our tendency toward violence, greed and sloth with love, generosity and action. Most of the time our good angels triumph, and we race toward the danger, comfort the stranger, give the coats from our backs to warm the chilled. Less often, thankfully, we just run, shove our way past the too-slow or grab a souvenir from an unguarded table

As a Catholic, I am moved by Martin's happy portrait on his First Communion day. His banner speaks of the symbols of our life as a community of faith: the humble wheat and wine that are transformed into gateways to the transcendent. The Alpha and Omega that encompass the entirety of human experience, transformed and uplifted by its encounter with the divine. And tellingly, the cross surmounted by a cheerful pink heart that speaks of human cruelty overcome by human self-giving. It is a cross that Martin himself has borne, too young and too soon.

Boston will heal, returning soon enough to its rowdy, boisterous ways. Injuries will heal less fully, sometimes only with the help of time, metal, plastic and a lifetime of special exercises. Psyches will scab over the trauma of the fright tattooed into its fibers, until nightmares or a sudden noise rips them open. But the loss of a child, a friend, a classmate may never heal. Not until that day when we again see each other face to face, in that realm where all tears are wiped away.

May our search ever be for justice over retribution; love over rage; and healing over injury.