Tragedy and uncertainty in Boston

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.


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
This entry was posted in History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Tragedy and uncertainty in Boston

  1. suzy beal says:

    Well said, I agree wholeheartedly with your last sentence. We must keep trying.

  2. danagpeleg1 says:

    I just opened my email and saw it. It happened when I was asleep in my home in Tel Aviv. I was lucky enough to never witness an explosion myself. Still, living nearby a place where a terror attack took place, is more than enough. So sorry. And yes, kindness, caring, love – and working your best against injustice (or for social justice, to put it in a positive way), that’s the only way I know to deal with it…

  3. Brian Bixby says:

    A Salem State University historian whose blog I follow offers a different perspective:

  4. This was very nicely written. I’m sorry you had to be near the experience, and I’m glad you’re okay. It’s an unfortunate situation that breaks my heart from California, I could only imagine what it’s like over there. Thoughts and prayers.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Thank you for your support.

      The idea that we’re all separated by only six degrees just took hold last night: a friend of a friend has children that played with the slain 8-year-old.

      I am surprised how many people have been writing in the same vein as I did. Surprised and pleased.

  5. crimsonprose says:

    I’ve just read breaking news of the suspected bombers, one killed in gunfire, the other his uncle has appealed to him to give himself up (April 19, 7pm GMT)

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Aye, the authorities have shut down the schools and transportation network, asked people to remain indoors while they are trying to capture the remaining suspect. That they’re taking this long (they’ve been at it since at least sunrise here) suggest either a great deal of difficulty, or possibly that the remaining suspect has evaded the police, at a guess.

      • crimsonprose says:

        I do hope it resolves soon. It is nerve-racking for those in the vicinity. No heroics now, you stay indoors. Anyway, you’re still laid low with that virus. Should keep you safe.

        • Brian Bixby says:

          The virus is lingering as much as the suspects, but it’s long past its peak. I’m just playing catch-up now, as opposed to being seriously afflicted.

          • crimsonprose says:

            Take your time. It was said to me that CFS is caused as much by rushing the healing process. We don’t give our bodies time to replenish the defences. Long gone are the days of convalence homes. Lament said by a nurse

  6. Judy says:

    You are one of the few people I know who can talk about aspects of history or politics or current events without loading everything with agenda. I appreciate that very much as I have so many people in my life who do ..not necessarily with bad intent..but it just makes me want to retract from the discourse. I do think you are correct that life offers no guarantees and much as I would like for everything to perfect and everyone to get along, there are those whose points are made with violence. While I do not understand it or how to prevent it from happening with any guarantee I can hope that we can mitigate the chances of it happening with reasonable precautions and collect the facts before assigning blame or punishment. I have only visited Boston once spending three days on foot around the town ,with my sister, getting local experience for her book, and taking my first subway rides and I found the people friendly and helpful at every turn of our adventure.My sister’s husband’s family is from Boston. Best to you and your family.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Thank you, Judy.

      When they’ve come up, I’ve been trying to deal with political issues from a historical or philosophical view, as I feel appropriate for this blog. While I’ve considered writing deliberately polemical pieces from time to time, I’ve always felt that, if I did, it should be in another blog.

      Open political discourse is necessary. But what I see passing for it in the media, on Facebook, and in blogs depresses me. It could be worse. Antebellum newspapers were considerably ruder than most of what gets published these days.

      Let us hope that truth and justice serve as the touchstones for our imperfect efforts to resolve the crimes that afflicted Boston and the neighboring towns. Would you believe people seem to be in a friendlier mood than usual around here?

      And we all got out yesterday. I even went out on the train to take a 7 mile bike trip to see two old Shaker buildings. It was a hilly ride, and I think I’m going to let my sore legs take it easy today. 🙂

  7. Judy says:

    Perhaps it is a teeny silver lining that people seem to come together during a tragedy, whether man made or natural. After one of our hurricanes the power grid was 98% down. My husband is not the type to fire up some sterno and warm up a canned soup. Nope, lets cruise and see what restaurant is open! So on a dark and rainy evening after, we went in search of dinner down a Federal Hwy strewn with soggy branches and found lights on at a place called the Stained Glass Pub. We entered to find the place packed and with , to my mind, a rather rough looking crowd. I though oh this won’t work, we’d never find an empty spot. There was a circular bar with booths around it which we began to circumnavigate. As we walked a couple of biker looking guys called us over and invited us to sit at their booth and wait as they were just finishing. We did and chatted long enough to learn the history of the litte pub from these rough looking kind hearted regulars. Shortly they did finish and parted company with us. This was amazing and would never happen under normal circumstances. We in turn decided to sit on one side of the booth leaving the other side open so we could invite someone else to share our booth. In about 2 seconds a couple came by and we invited them to join us. It was great my husband is a private pilot but not active lately and the other man was an aviation instructor. So he got all caught up on general aviation. His wife was a nurse. So we had a delightful meal with a delightful couple with lots in common. Perfect!! The next day at lunch we did the same at yet another place and met another great couple.

    I know these are small examples among many. Our daily life is so insular and we all exist in the narrow bounds of home, car, work, and repeat..that we hardy know the guy who lives next door!! When it matters most, people do seem more friendly and accessible!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s