For the first time this week, I woke up without images of the victims in my head. I woke up worried about getting ready for my 2 year-old nephew’s birthday party, instead of worrying about the parents of the 8 year-old boy who’d been killed. I began to run the events of the coming day in my head, rather than reliving the awful events of the past week. It was the first time in a week I felt safe leaving the house.
That was Saturday. The day after a citywide manhunt left most of the city immobilized—more blood, more casualties, more fear. And then, it was over. We hoped.
On Sunday, it seemed a time to reflect. Quaker Meeting has been a place of solace for me since my early teens. So I returned once again. Not a devout member, but an occasional attender; I went when I needed to.
I sat still and quiet, the way we always do to begin a Friends Meeting for Worship. The impossible question of Why continued to resound in my head. I came not expecting to find an answer, but to find solace among the others who sought one.
I remembered a photo I had seen of a young man, a runner, a double amputee, with head and hands wrapped in bandages, legs ending above the knee and disappearing into more white bandages. I imagined this young man learning the perpetrator responsible for those injuries was in the same hospital wing. I imagined him asking to visit. Can you imagine that?
I picture the runner in a wheelchair, rolling up to the bedside of the 19-year old terrorist and saying “Look what you did.”
I then tried to imagine the scene unfolding like this: The legless runner approaches the terrorist and from his wheelchair he says, “I forgive you.” I tried to imagine it. But I couldn’t.
Yet that was the message I kept hearing this morning: Mercy. A message I was not quite ready to receive. Person after person sprung up and shared their message (this is how we worship in Quaker Meeting). Many beckoned for our community to respond to hate with love, to war with peace. And I found this too, hard.
One woman said she spent the week thinking of the victims and it wasn’t until the end of the week that she began to think of the young man. She said she felt this man needed our prayers because he had gotten so disconnected to humankind that he was able to do this.
Excuse me? Pray for him? The victims need our prayers. The friends and families of those left behind and hurt need our prayers. The Richards Family, who lost an 8 year-old boy, had their 7 year-old daughter loose a leg, while the mother is still in the hospital suffering brain injuries—they need our prayers.
I think of the smirk on the face of the man in the picture with the white hat and I’m not ready to think of forgiveness.
Shouldn’t justice come first? Shouldn’t punishment and repentance come first? Has he even asked for forgiveness?
I keep thinking about how long this must have been in the planning. He had so many chances to change his mind. Did he reconsider? Did he doubt? Did he have even a moment of humanity where he wondered what they were doing? Did his conscience nag at all, over harming innocent bystanders this way? Women. Children. And so savagely. Did he avoid eye contact as he casually strolled through the crowds cheering the Boston Marathon, and placed two pressure cooker bombs at their feet?
That’s what I was thinking about when someone stood up in the balcony and read the Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
I know we won’t find solace in hatred, anger and retribution. I know we need to answer love with hate or continue a vicious cycle in perpetuity. I know that this is the path forward but I can't imagine walking it.