This is a blog about mysteries and magic. Well, today we have had a real-life mystery unfold through the magic of explosives technology: the multiple bombings at the Boston Marathon, just across the river. As death tolls from explosions go, it’s likely to be small potatoes: fewer than five, though probably around 100 injured. Of course, to everyone who was hurt or killed, and their friends and relatives, the bombings are of surpassing importance.
From my safe home across the river, the whole story unfolded like a mystery. I got a phone text asking me if I was OK. From what? And then I saw the first postings on Facebook about one or more bombs going off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
The major local newspaper’s site went down immediately, and did not come up again for at least half an hour. The cell phone network was rapidly overloaded, and even shut down in downtown Boston by the authorities. So, just as much as anyone in San Francisco or Fiji, I had to rely on Internet connections to find out what was going on. It was very disconcerting to know the story was unfolding only a few miles away, and yet knowing my news sources were all coming from places such as suburban news stations or even New York.
There’s a river between Cambridge, where I live, and Boston. But we’re in Boston often enough. So I had to field phone calls, text messages, Facebook queries, and whatever else from people concerned about our welfare, with the cell phone network usually non-functional . . . and send out my own queries to people I know who live or work nearby, not to mention the runners. And all the time, I’m getting the news on what feels like an interminable delay.
I’m happy to say that no one I know seems to have been hurt or killed. Someone I do know was actually in the JFK Library when that explosion went off, and another was a runner who was about half a mile from the finish line when those explosions went off, but neither was hurt.
Still, people were killed, people were hurt, people that other people care about. And there are no answers yet, no solutions, not yet. It’s a mystery. Already, claims about the identity of the perpetrators are flying, often with a political agenda behind them.
We read about these events when they happen. They sound bad enough. But to be near them adds another layer of chaos and uncertainty. It’s a lot easier for me to appreciate why people have trouble figuring out what is going on when major tragedies strike, when I have trouble doing so for one only a few miles away. And what the situation is like for those who are at the scene must yet reach a higher level of confusion.
Right now, we don’t have an exact count on how many were injured. We don’t know who the perpetrators are. We don’t know if we’ll ever find out, or if they will be brought to justice. It is as profound and serious a mystery as any one confronts in life.
As a civilized people, it is our duty to help those who were hurt, comfort those who suffered. It is our duty to investigate this crime, to try to uncover the perpetrators, and if possible to see them judged guilty and sentenced in a court of law after a fair trial. And it is our duty to take steps to prevent future tragedies without compromising the virtues of a civilized society.
A civilized society is not built on guarantees, nor on vengeance. It is built on the hope that we can live peaceably and happily most of the time by being kind to one another, and on the efforts of citizens to put in place the laws and practices to make it so. We know our hopes will be blasted sometimes, that we will be disappointed, that we will be hurt. Without becoming uncivilized ourselves, we must act to fix things after such disappointments, after such tragedies. Because ultimately, human civilization is an experiment, built on the hope we can live peaceably together, that civilized behavior must in the long run triumph over savagery.