An American Reckoning

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On Wednesday, one hundred days after the bombs at the Boston Marathon took his leg, broke his spine, ruptured his eardrums and buried shrapnel in his body, the last hospitalized victim to be discharged left the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital for home after 49 separate surgeries. His fiancee and 5-year old son were with him when he left.

For those of us who live in Boston, word of his discharge came as tremendously happy news…happy news most desperately needed. The bombs went off in April, and it is now the end of July, and we’re not over it yet. I mean, at all. That much was made abundantly clear when Dzhohkar Tsarnaev’s fluffy little face appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, and all Hell broke loose.

I don’t know how spirited the debate was where you live, but here in town, it was a one-sided avalanche of rage. A state trooper put his entire career on the line by releasing photographs of Tsarnaev’s bloody capture, all because he was offended by the idea that this as-yet-unconvicted little punk got a glory shot on the cover of a music magazine.

This is not the behavior of a people who have come to grips with what happened to them. This is the angry roar of a maddened mob still smarting from the blow absorbed 100 days hence. No, we’re not over it, even those of us who thought the Stone cover was no big deal. We think about it every day. It colors everything now. When the Pops played at the Esplanade by the river for our annual Fourth of July celebration, there wasn’t a one of us who didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when the last note of music was carried off into the air unaccompanied by screams, sirens and the smell of blood.

We may not be over it, but the fact remains that tens and tens and tens of thousands of people went down to the river for that Esplanade concert on the Fourth, because, frankly, fuck you and your fucking bombs. Next year’s marathon is going to field the largest group of runners in the history of the race, and the crowds along Commonwealth Avenue and Boylston Street will be thirty-deep from the curb, because fuck you, that’s why.

The “Boston Strong” thing has been watered down by people looking to make a buck selling t-shirts and by well-meaning sports fans who co-opted the slogan to root for local teams, but if you’re not from Boston and are sick of hearing it, believe me, we aren’t. We are still suffering here – not just the hundreds who were hurt and the families of those who died, but all of us, every one of us, and each in our own way. We all know someone who was there. Krystle Campbell used to serve me whiskey when she worked at the Summer Shack on Dalton Street. I remember her smile.

We are still suffering here, and maybe a part of all of us – those who were here – always will be. When someone plants a bomb at the feet of a group of strangers and walks away, and that bomb explodes, it releases a truth about suffering that did not exist before the explosion. Lives lost, lives changed, body parts and blood everywhere, and the world will never be the same as it was before the terrible noise and the lancing shrapnel and the screams.

In the trembling aftershock of such a thing, there are only two possible avenues of response: revenge, or a reckoning. Revenge is easy, especially for America. After 9/11, we sought revenge against Iraq and extracted a terrible, bloody price for what happened in New York City. The aftermath of that revenge has left Iraq ravaged; 3,000 people have been killed as a result of sectarian attacks there since April, when the bombs went off in Boston. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands more died before April, including thousands of Americans who were sent there as the avatars of our vengeance.

More deaths are sure to follow as that shattered nation descends into civil war, even as it had nothing whatsoever to do with the event that brought down our wrath…and our wrath will beget their wrath, and the wheel of violence will continue to turn. That is the bitter fruit of revenge.

A reckoning, however, is painful for all involved. A reckoning seeks to understand why things like the Marathon bombing happened, and seeks ultimately to punish only those directly involved. A reckoning informs, tamps down incoherent rage, and steals from the shouters any chance to wave the bloody shirt for their own purposes. Had there been a reckoning after 9/11, Iraq would not be a war-torn wasteland. If Dzhohkar Tsarnaev’s words scrawled on the inside of his final hiding place are to be given any weight at all – he claimed the attack was retaliation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – that same reckoning may very well have spared my city from having to endure its ongoing trauma. It is all of a piece.

Revenge is what we usually do in America, but we are still suffering here in Boston, and they are still suffering in New York City lo these many years later, and they are still suffering in Iraq and so many other places besides, and so I pray most devoutly that, this time, we have a reckoning instead. Let us know why, let it be hard, and let the million flowers bloom. We here have had a hot taste of what revenge and the wheel of violence has to offer. The time has come to find alternatives to vengeance.