Lock and Load……..


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Wow. It was quite a day for national news.

I mean.  Wow.

Yet another young man decided to grab a few guns and kill some random strangers.   So scary!   Four young and innocent Marines went to work this morning and will never come home again.  Another angry young man is dead, having chosen to shoot his way out of this life.

Clearly, say all the pundits on CNN, it is time to place armed guards around military bases and military recruitment offices.

And the angry young man who decided to shoot up a Colorado movie theater a few years ago was found guilty on all charges today.  More deaths, more wasted lives, more horror.

Obviously, it is time to increase armed guards at movie theaters.

As a teacher, I am still grieving over the horrors that unfolded in Newtown on that terrible morning when another angry, sick young man decided to make his exit by taking a whole classroom of babies with him.

We should have armed guards at the front door of every school.  Clearly.

We should have armed men standing in front of churches, too, and attending every Bible study group.Because it is impossible to tell exactly when yet another disillusioned, racist, hopeless, twisted, unloved and unloving young person might decide to shoot the place up in an act of defiance.

Our ministers should be armed. Our priests should carry loaded guns under their robes. Our kindergarten teachers and our English teachers and our college professors should all be armed every single day.  You know. Just in case.

And young baristas at Starbucks in small New England towns should probably carry guns, too.  And the kids who gather to play music in cozy art galleries in those small towns might want to be packing heat as they strum their acoustic guitars.

Because you just never know when an angry young man in a tiny little Berkshire town like Adams, Mass. might decide to blow up a college cafeteria.  A young man like the one who is the same age as my boys.  Like the one who lives in the same bucolic place where they share a house.

You just never know when it will happen.

Clearly, it is time for us all to arm ourselves to the teeth, to load our guns and keep them close. And we should be ready to pull those guns out and start firing just as soon as the next sad and broken young man or woman starts to shoot the place up.

Or.

Maybe we should think about limiting the guns……………..

Boston Strong


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Boston Strong.

I love the idea of it.

I grew up in a Boston suburb.  I went to my first marathon in 1975, when I was a student at Boston College.  I stood on “Heartbreak Hill” and handed out oranges to the runners who passed me.

I think of myself as a Bostonian.  Growing up, before I studied to become a speech/language pathologist, my speech was filled with “popcohn” and “pahk” and “wicked pissah”.

I’ve cheered for the Red Sox since 1967.  I learned about the “Pats” when they were still located in the hub.

Patriots Day is my holiday: I have watched the parade in Lexington a dozen times. I’ve been to North Bridge in Concord for the reenactment.  I have walked the “Freedom Trail”, visited Paul Revere’s house, and participated in the town meeting at Olde South Meeting House.

I went to college at UMass Boston.

So you get it, right?  Boston is MY city.

When the bombs went off at the Marathon on April 15, 2013, I had just come home from a morning spent in Concord and Acton.  My husband and my friends and I had celebrated the beautiful cool spring morning by applauding the courage of those militiamen of long ago.  We had cheered and clapped as the mock militia met the mock Redcoats on North Bridge.  We’d marched with a group of kids and bands and Girl Scout Troops, walking from Concord to Acton.  We’d had breakfast at the famous Concord Inn, and had enjoyed the warmth and the fun and the mood of celebration.

What we hadn’t known then was that while we were enjoying the lovely morning, two homemade bombs had gone off at the Marathon. People had died.  People had been maimed and shocked and hurt in ways that would mark them forever.

When I heard the news, about an hour after we’d gotten home from our morning trip to Concord, and about two hours after the blasts, I was shocked and scared.  My friends were there! They were RIGHT. THERE.   Some had run the race, some had been there to cheer on family, some had been officials at the finish line.

I spent a frantic hour tracking everyone down, reassuring myself that they were all OK.  That none of my friends of family had been hurt.

But the thing is, my friends and family were within feet of dying, of losing legs, or having their lives forever changed.

This time, for me, the terrorism was personal.

And it became more personal when the terrorists chose to flee the city and ended up facing police in the town where my oldest child was living.  The day and night of the Boston Lockdown were the longest and most stressful of my life.

Those terrible, deadly, homicidal young men were in my child’s neighborhood.  I couldn’t get to her, and I couldn’t get her out of there.

I watched, unable to look away, during the whole day of police searches, false alarms and basement searches.  I watched in terror and horror as that young boy- younger than my own youngest son- huddled in that covered boat.  I watched him being shot, and I watched him being arrested.

I sobbed with relief when it was over.

I am a Bostonian.  This is my city.  These were my people in pain.

And so I find myself oddly conflicted now, as that young terrorist is convicted of his crimes and faces his awful future.

Do I want him to be killed?

No.

I don’t.

And here is exactly why.

He was just a boy.  A terrible, delusional, angry, boy.  But a boy.

Killing him will make us as awful as he is.  I truly believe this.  Killing someone for killing someone makes as much sense as biting a dog because it bit you.  I don’t believe that any lesson would be learned.

But mostly, I do not want my government to kill this man because I do not want us to become the very thing that deluded young men like him tell themselves that we are.

I do not want this man’s death to be the proof that other angry young men need to attack my country, my city, my friends.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

If I were unlucky enough to be on the jury that is deciding his fate, I would keep that quote in mind.

I am Boston Strong.

Strong enough to endure and to flourish without the death of another young person.  Strong enough to hope that life and hope can achieve more than any lethal injection ever could.

Islamists?


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I find myself in an odd place.  I know I’m not alone, but I still want to share this strange experience with you.   Maybe I can make some sense of things if I do.

Forty two years ago I was an exchange student. I was seventeen years old, completely and unbelievably naive. I was sent to Tunisia, to live with an Islamic family.   I had a fantastic time!  I’ve written about my experience before, thinking about how comforting it was to find a family across the world that was so very much like my own.

But in the past three days, I’ve been really looking back, and thinking about my time in Tunisia.

I remember that my family had an Uncle, a jovial man of middle age, who was a retired general in the Tunisian military.  He had a lovely little house just outside of Tunis. I remember going there for dinner. I remember that he hunted for little birds, which he brought back to the house in the afternoon. They were dressed and cooked and served over couscous. I remember that he was so proud of himself, and I remember that the dinner was delicious.

I remember, too, that the same smiling, stocky Uncle took me and my Tunisian sisters to the famous Bardo Museum.  I don’t remember many details, but I do recall that the grounds were absolutely lovely, that the exhibits were amazing and inspiring. I remember a mosaic stone floor in the courtyard, and I remember that we were given a special tour because the Uncle was a member of the military.

I watch the news now, as we talk about “Islamists” and “terrorists” and I am struck by how we use the terms interchangeably.  I think about the fact that most American parents now would never send their innocent daughter to live in Tunisia.

And then I close my eyes, and I remember what happened to me when I had to travel across the country by myself, on a bus, to a city I’d never seen. I remember that I got onto the bus in tears: I knew that I was saying goodbye to a family I’d grown to love very much.  And I knew that I would most likely never see them again.

It was the last week of my journey, and I was leaving my host city of Kairouan to join up with the rest of the exchange students in the coastal city of Sfax.  My Tunisian family said goodbye to me at the bus station, and I boarded a big old bus to head southeast.  I was sobbing as the bus pulled out, so I barely noticed the old woman with the chickens in the seat behind me, or the man with the two small goats who sat in front of me.  I wasn’t really aware of the handsome man and his wide eyed son who sat in the seat across the aisle.  At least, I wasn’t aware of them until the man reached across the aisle and patted my shoulder.  He murmured gently in Arabic: I didn’t understand him, but his face showed sympathy and caring.  It made me cry a little harder.  The man and his son moved across the aisle to sit with me, and he kept talking and patting my back.  Little by little, we found a way to communicate. He introduced me to his son, I told him about my Tunisian family.  We gestured, we nodded, we gazed out the window at the passing desert together.

I remember that we came to a stopping place, where small boys sold water from huge clay jars. I remember the man buying me a water, which I sipped gratefully from a shared cup.

And I remember arriving in Sfax, and getting off the bus.  The man and his son embraced me, and he handed me a gift.  It was a beautiful handmade clay ashtray, shaped carefully from the red soil of the country.  I remember him pressing it into my hands, his long white robe touching his shoes as he leaned down toward me. “Pour toi” he said, and I thanked him.

I don’t know his name, and I can’t recall his face.  But his kindness to a weeping young stranger has always stayed with me.

And I remember what happened after I got to Sfax and the bus pulled out.  I sat in the bus station, as I’d been told by our group leader to do.  I’d been told that I should stay in place and wait until he and the other students arrived. So I waited.  And I waited.

The day went by, and sun began to set.  I was the only foreigner sitting in the tiny, dusty bus depot. I began to notice a group of older men, middle aged, in traditional robes.  They stood around, speaking softly to each other, but eyeing me as I sat alone on my bench.   I tried to look confident, to ignore them, but I was starting to worry.

Now this was well before the time of cell phones, and there was no way for me to reach my friends or my group leader.  All I knew was that I was supposed to wait, and that the sun was beginning to set.  I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, I remember, one older man, sporting a full gray beard and bushy eyebrows, came to where I sat. He began to ask me questions in Arabic, which I barely spoke.  I managed to finally understand him, and to explain that I was waiting for others.  He looked upset and began to speak urgently to me. Finally, through a combination of Arabic and broken French, I came to understand that no more busses would be arriving that day, and that the man and his friends were worried about leaving me alone on that little bench.  They asked where I was headed, but I only knew that last name of my group leader, whose family home was my destination.

I remember that the group of men argued and waved their arms and shook their heads as they shot me worried glances. I can only imagine their thoughts.  “What is wrong with those crazy Americans!? They send a little girl halfway across the world and leave her on her own in a strange city?”  They didn’t know what to do with me!

I don’t remember how it happened, or how I managed to understand it all, but I remember that I was placed carefully in the back of a cab, and that the name of my host was given to the driver. I remember that we drove all around the city, and that the young cabbie stopped over and over again to ask if anyone knew where my group leader’s family lived.

At last, after dark, I was brought to the house where I would spend the night.  I don’t have any idea who paid the kind cabbie for his long trip, but I know that it wasn’t me.

I look back now, and I am so touched and so astonished at the gentle, unselfish kindness that was heaped on me that one day in Tunisia.

And I think of the word “Islamist”.  I think of those thoughtful, gentle, fatherly Islamic men who took such care of me that day, with no possibility of reward.

I don’t understand how the Islam that I learned to love could have been twisted into the horror of what happened at my beautiful Bardo Museum.

I don’t understand it.

I find myself in a strange and sad place.

You see, for me the world “Islamist” brings to mind gentle, funny, generous men who go out of their way to take care of strangers.

Compassion


603733_10200837417355233_1874374034_nI have spent the last 15 hours in a panic of anxiety and fear.  The second bombing suspect, the “white hat” was hiding in my daughter’s neighborhood.  She was kept awake all night with the explosions, the shooting, the sirens and police lights and helicopters and humvees.  I was petrified, thinking of all of that violence right at her doorstep.

We have been glued to our TV’s, our radios, our computers, all day long. Monitoring the updates, the searches, the breaking news, the latest developments.  Kate has been in constant touch with us by text and by Facebook. “We are safe!”, she told us, “We are staying upstairs in the bedroom. Too many windows in the downstairs rooms.” We paced, and waited, and sweated and glibly reassured ourselves. “There are a million cops on the street. What could happen?”  Then we hugged, wiped our eyes, and continued to stare at the repeating news updates.

I love my daughter more than I love my own life.  She is my first born child, my heart, my soul. I am her mother.  I would walk on hot coals to keep her safe.  All morning long, my racing mind focused on trying to find ways to get to her, or to get her to me.  I couldn’t stand the feeling of helplessness that came over me, knowing that she was in danger, and that I could not save her.  My sense of unreality increased as I watched the coverage of her neighborhood on CNN, The London Times, Le Monde Paris. Fear had me breathless and weak at the knees.

But a second emotion crept over me today, too, and I am at a loss to explain it.

I am so profoundly, deeply saddened by the idea of two brothers being brought to such a level of despair that they believed it was the right thing to do to kill innocent people for some unspoken reason.

I found myself looking at the pictures of those young men, especially the younger, “sweeter” brother, and I felt my heart breaking for them.

Believe me, I understand that these two men have committed unspeakable crimes. I can see the faces of the victims, those who have died, those who have been so horrifically hurt. I feel the rage of the survivors. I am hurt and angered for those innocent lives. I am. A part of me, not the best part of me, wants vengeance for that little boy, for those bright and happy young women, for their families, for my city, my state, my own family.

It would be so easy to become just as violent as the men who did these terrible things.

But for some reason, the faces of the suspects have reached out and have touched my heart in a very unexpected way.  They were brothers, linked by family, history, mutual love and admiration.

They make me think of my sons.

In spite of myself, today my heart was heavy for the terrified, cornered, desperate teen aged boy who was being hunted by all the firepower of the government in our city, our state, our region.   I found myself in tears, over and over again, as I thought of him watching his brother die and running for his own life.   I found myself weeping as I thought of his parents, shocked and terrified at the unfolding events.

I spent today scared to death for my child. I wanted her safe and free and unafraid.  But I also spent today praying that the police would capture the second suspect alive, and would bring him to justice.   Not so much because I want to hear his explanations, although that would be some comfort to us all.  No, I wanted him to be brought in alive because no matter what he has done, he is somebody’s son.  He is some mother’s little boy.

I could not stand the thought of him dying alone and in terror and guilt and grief.  I imagined him remembering happier days, maybe days of laughing with his siblings at his mother’s table.  I imagined him asking himself, “What happened?”

The better part of me, perhaps, the more human, more humane part of me rose to the surface today.  Perhaps it was the mother in me, thinking of my own boys, so close in age to these two, which brought me to tears. Truly, I am not sure.

I am so inexpressibly happy that this killer is in custody, where he can do no more damage.  I am so relieved and exhausted.  He is caught; my girl is safe. We can all rest at last.

But I am relieved, too, that he is still alive. I am happy that he didn’t bleed to death all alone, desperate and in fear.

He will face what he has done, and he will pay for it.  But not alone, and in the dark.

In spite of it all, he is still a human being.  And to my relief, it seems that so am I.