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We Don’t Know

We don’t know, and we can’t imagine. Who would set bombs to go off at the end of a foot race? Why would any human being do such a thing? What is the world coming to that such acts of violence are beginning to seem commonplace? What sort of beings are we, what sort of a society are we, that wholesale random violence would be an ongoing part of our lives?

We don’t know, and we can’t imagine. And maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to sit with those two facts. We don’t know. And so it does no good to speculate about foreign terrorists or domestic terrorists or mental illness or right-wing or left-wing conspiracies. We don’t know. Maybe by the time you read this, we will. But for the meantime we just have to live with horrible suffering for no known reason. Which is kind of how life is. We don’t know why some people get cancer, or why some babies die in their cribs or why one house is completely demolished by tornado or fire when the one next door is untouched. We just don’t know. You could say it’s God’s will, but usually that’s what the neighbors with the intact house say—“God saved us!”—while their neighbors blankly examine the rubble of what was their home.

We don’t know, and we live in a world of not knowing. Except that we know that brave first responders are tending the wounded and clearing the area of any other explosive devices. We know that people are caring for one another, that shell-shocked bystanders are seeing that the hurt receive medical attention, that people across the country are calling up the Red Cross to see if they should donate blood, that folks everywhere are praying, sending love, wishing for safety and healing. And we know this without witnessing it, without seeing it on the news, simply because that is what people always do. That is who we are.

And who we are is people who can’t imagine. We can’t imagine why someone would commit such a brutal and bloody act because however many times these horrific acts rip across our headlines, 99.99999% of us are the kind of people who not only wouldn’t do such a thing, we are also people who couldn’t even imagine doing it. We might or might not jump in a river in an attempt to save someone who is drowning, but we can imagine it. We might or might not walk onto a busy highway to rescue an injured dog, but we can imagine it. What we can’t imagine is creating wanton destruction, because we are not that kind of people. However many of these horrible, heart-wrenching events happen, they will only be perpetrated by the most infinitesimal fraction of the population, while the rest of us watch and pray and donate blood and do whatever we can to hold safe not only our children and our friends, but also complete strangers whose suffering we can, alas, imagine.

I can’t say whether it’s enough, but it’s how we live in this world.

  • Kathleen Lehmann

    Thank you

  • Elisse Ghitelman

    I spent four hours today standing on a hill in Newton at the Marathon and cheering on runners, some of whom may have been crossing the finish line as the bombs went off. When I left the course at 2 PM, I thought about what a wonderful experience it is to be a spectator. You have the opportunity to join hundreds of thousands of other people who are sending good will to the thousands of hardy folks who run this race. It is one amazing quantity of loving-kindness going out there. This is who we are; people who stand and cheer for each other, and encourage each other in our crazy ambitions.

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    • Cynthia Bradley

      Thank you.

  • http://FB Carol Thompson

    This is really helpful. I actually don’t ask why, I never asked why when I got cancer or why when two of my friends died last week. I am however despairing when events like today happen thinking of the families whose lives are forever changed or lost. That is the best I can do.

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  • Stu Smith

    Well written, Lynn. Our imagination is a big part of how we shape ourselves.

  • Eileen Raymond

    Thanks, Lynn. It is so important to keep perspective when we find ourselves feeling powerless or lost. As J.J. Gould quoted Patton Oswald on the Atlantic web page on Monday– http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/patton-oswalt-on-the-boston-marathon-bombing/275015/
    “So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

  • fsm

    In response to the following excerpt, “We don’t know why some people get cancer, or why some babies die in their cribs or why one house is completely demolished by tornado or fire when the one next door is untouched. ”
    Actually, we do know the answers to such trite questions. Cancer can be directly linked to a cause, such as smoking with lunch cancer. When someone dies, a coroner performs an autopsy to know why that individual died. And when one house is demolished while another is left standing, it’s due to random wind patterns that guide wind to and fro. Hence why we never see perfectly square or triangle fires but rather random patterns. Get an education.


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