Struggling with Tragedy


I wanted to write a post about writing, about publishing, about editing. I have an update on that front, and I try to treat this blog not as my personal diary, but as a place to share my writing journey specifically. And I will share my editing/publishing update. But it will have to be in another post.
Three days ago, two bombs went off in Copley Square in Boston, MA at 2:50 pm ET. I was in my office when it happened, several cities away, worrying about a client crisis that in retrospect, wasn’t much of a crisis at all.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing since it happened. I’m not inspired to write, I’m having problems concentrating at work, and I find myself fighting back tears at totally inappropriate times.
I don’t know why I’m so affected by this tragedy. It’s objectively upsetting, but there are lots of tragic events that are upsetting. When soldiers or innocent civilians die in warfare, that is upsetting. When people die in a natural disaster, like the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, that is upsetting. But none of those tragedies felt personal.
The Boston Marathon bombing feels personal.
I do not live in Boston, though I know several people who do. My former colleagues work in an office on Boylston Street, which runs through Copley Square. My college roommate and her boyfriend live in downtown Boston, and her boyfriend ran the marathon on Monday. He’s a serious athlete and a talented runner, and finished well before the blasts went off. My former colleagues are rattled but fine.
As many of you know, I’m a New Yorker, or I am as of three years ago (I’m originally from a snooty town in Connecticut, for those of you who care). Boston is the closest big city to NYC, and I’ve been there often; in fact, I was there two weeks ago on business. Jon Stewart, of Daily Show fame, described the relationship of our cities best:
…New Yorkers and Boston obviously have kind of a little bit of a competition. Often, the two cities accusing each other of various levels of suckitude. But it is in situations like this that we realize it is clearly a sibling rivalry, and that we are your brothers and sisters in this type of event. 
 These bombs did not go off in my city, but they very well could have. Everyone’s aware of that–if you go to Grand Central, the train station is crawling with uniformed men and women carrying serious-looking guns. There are cops in NYPD blue at every intersection. It could have been us, and we are afraid.
Two Novembers ago, the runners in the New York marathon came over the Queensborough bridge and passed through 59th Street. I’m not a runner — in fact, I loathe running — but I came out to watch as a spectator. I live right around the corner from the bridge, and the marathoners run through here every year. It’s either mile 13 or mile 16 (I can’t recall which) — the middle of the race, and far from the most exciting — but there’s an amazing energy in the atmosphere that’s indescribable. There’s a relationship between the spectators and the runners, though we are strangers to each other. And though I may not be a runner, I am always inspired by the men and women who push their bodies to the limit. I’m a powerlifter myself, and I imagine that crossing the finishing line of any marathon is as incredible a feeling as lifting hundreds of pounds. It’s not just the endorphin rush; it’s the sense of accomplishment. 
In writing fiction, the experts say to give the antagonist a motive. Nobody’s pure evil, they say. Every evil act must be rationalized. But then something like the Boston Marathon bombing happens, and I cannot fathom a possible rationale. If I were the editor of this story, I would call for a rewrite. This atrocity is too evil, too illogical, I would say. It doesn’t make any sense. Don’t murder the 8 year old child, the beautiful, smart young women with their futures ahead of them. Your readers won’t be able to bear it.
Perhaps the reason the bombing feels so personal to me is the advent of technology. During 9/11, we saw the towers burn and collapse from afar. The screams were muted, the dead and dying out of sight. 9/11 felt personal to me, too, but I knew people who worked in the World Trade Centers, and my father was scheduled to leave on a plane from NYC that day. I could see the smoke from the pile of rubble where the towers used to be from my hometown beach across the ocean.
But thanks to smartphones and social media (thanks might be the wrong phrasing), anyone can relive the horror of the Boston Marathon. There are countless videos of raw footage on the internet, personal accounts and eyewitness photos.You can watch the orange fireball burst through the crowd and you can hear the sonic boom of the explosion. You can see the trail of blood across the sidewalk and you know the faces of the victims, and you’ve seen up-close shots of their missing limbs and shrapnel-torn bodies.
I’m still grappling with my feelings about the whole event. I’ve both lost my faith in humanity and regained it. Lost because I wanted to believe that humanity was not capable of such pointless evil. The Boston Marathon is a truly global event, attended by runners and spectators from around the world. The bomb did not just strike Americans that day; it struck people of every nationality. One of the three people who died was from China, attending Boston University to pursue a graduate degree in statistics. All of China mourns her loss, as do we. The world mourns with us. I don’t know what the bomber’s intended outcome was, other than to strike fear into our hearts. But to what end? The Boston Marathon is supposed to be a joyous event, a celebration of the enormous potential of humanity. Why would anybody want to ruin that? The man or woman who did this to the city of Boston is not human, no matter what is in his/her DNA. 
But something amazing happened in the midst of all this tragedy. Cops, bystanders, amateurs, ordinary people became heroes in the wake of the blast. When a bomb goes off, the logical reaction is to run away. But these heroes ran to the aid of the victims who were caught in the blast. They removed debris and fencing out of the way in record time. They made makeshift tourniquets out of waist belts and clothing and used napkins from Starbucks to staunch victims’ bleeding.  Those tourniquets saved lives, doctors at Boston hospitals said. Uninjured runners, who’d already run over 20 miles, kept running all the way to the hospital so that they could donate blood. So many volunteers donated blood that the Red Cross tweeted “thanks” and said they had sufficient supplies to treat every bomb victim.
One of my favorite pictures from the marathon is of former New England Patriots (to my non-American readers, the Patriots are one of the best football teams in the NFL) player Joe Andruzzi rescuing a woman who could no longer walk.
These people, these heroes, are a testament to man’s potential for good. They restore my faith in humanity. It is cruelly unfair that the actions of one evil human (although perhaps more if this is a coordinated act of terror) can offset the goodness of so many others. I try to avoid profanity in this blog, but here I think it is warranted: I hope they make the fucker who did this pay.
I’m sorry for the off-topic ramble, but as much as I want to share my latest Paladin update, I had to write this first. It’s somewhat cathartic to put my pen to paper (or my, er, keyboard to MS Word). This blog will resume normal programming tomorrow when I give you another very big update on publishing/editing Paladin. Thanks for bearing with me on this one.

8 Comments

  1. Personally, I’m sorry for the people that did this and heartbroken for the people who were injured/killed. If the clearly crazy people like this continue on with this evil, then that is sad. But if they ever “see the light” as some would put it, this would be with them for the rest of their lives.

    For the victims, I’m very sad… I wish this horrible, terrible tragedy could be reversed.

  2. I know how you feel. My sister studying in Boston a train ride away, and though this is a bit selfish of me (as there were many other victims) I always think to myself – What if? What if my sister had decided to take a break and go watch the marathon? The smallest decision could have… Well, you know. So yeah. It makes me shake when I think about it.

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