“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there.”
The memory of war may be beautiful when preserved as a lyric, but the reality of war will always be ugly. Will only be ugly.
Like everyone else, I heard about the Boston Marathon bombings in the middle of a normal, busy day. My friend’s phone rang, it was his wife. Seconds after he hung up we were online, our hearts in our stomachs. Soon strangers overheard our conversation, and normal cultural taboos were suspended in light of the tragedy–people interrupted, asked questions, compared what they’d heard with our own sources. Through it all, we shared the same grim expressions.
From the start, we mourned with strangers.
I came home, kissed my wife, turned on the TV. And texted friends. And fought through the overall sense of shock, rage, and profound sadness. This feels so much like 9-11. Why does this keep happening?
And as much as I tried, I couldn’t suppress the thought that kept worming its way forward: What if this was a normal part of my life?
Two bombs exploded in Boston today, but bombs are the norm in Baghdad. Over 1000 bombs have burst in Iraq since 2001, including a series of coordinated car bombs today. There have been roughly 115 fatal bombings in Israel since 9-11. And over 2,200 rockets have been fired into Gaza this year alone.
In many ways, our disconnect is perfectly understandable. Boston is us, the other places are them. We’ve been to Boston; we’ve never been to Baghdad. We know how long a marathon is, but we’ve know idea how many days are in a cricket test match. It is understandable, but not unavoidable. We simply have no shared context from which to draw in order to build a sense of empathy.
Until we’ve seen the bombs in our own country. Until we’ve seen the chaos on our own streets. Until we’ve seen the frenetic footage on our own nightly news. Until we’ve been driven by the irrepressible urge to make sure our own loved ones are ok, make sure our own friends survived. Until we’ve felt the shudder run down our spine with the thought, “That could have been me.”
None of this is to say their pain should minimize ours. But the converse is true, and infinitely more powerful.
Our pain should emphasize theirs.
Part of me is hesitant to write this today, the very day of the Boston blast. It’s too soon, I tell myself, I need to allow us more room to grieve. And yet if I am to write at all, it must be today; today is precisely the moment when we have the greatest affinity, the greatest commonality (even as we confess that in many ways our experiences are still immeasurably different).
We may live worlds apart, but it is precisely now that we have the best chance of seeing them as us, of making their pain our pain. Today, of all days, we learn that we mourn with strangers.
We pray for Boston. We pray for Baghdad. We pray for Jerusalem. We pray for the Gaza Strip.
We mourn and we pray.