The Intimacy of a Tragedy

Rolling Stone magazine has put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of their August issue and it has been received badly. Tsarnaev is  the young man currently being held for the Boston Marathon bombing, which unfolded horrifically on April 15 and kept the city riveted and squirrelly until his capture on April 19. Three people were killed in the bombing and more than 260 wounded by the two pressure-cooker bombs Tsarnaev and his older brother planted in the crowd near the finish line. A fourth man was killed when the two went on-the-run.

I live north of Boston and felt intimately the horror and exhaustion of this terrible event. And now, as I reflect upon the outrage provoked by the magazine cover, I stand in solidarity with my Commonwealth compatriots and shake my head. At the same time, I can’t help but feel an element of grief that so much has been lost because of  so basic a fundamental human longing: to belong, to be part of something, and — in Tsarnaev’s case, to be partnered with and inspired by an older brother.

This crime played out intimately for everyone involved. It started with healthy people, happy people — neighbors, friends — who had come to this great city to run a great race. These are people with fortitude, grit and optimism. As are the loved ones and friends who stood in the crowd to cheer them  on. Families. Friends. Children. Balloons. High fives.

The horror unfolded in a split second and showed itself in horrific detail: maiming wounds, shattered limbs, shredded flesh, life-long incapacitation without the consolation of death. The intimacy of this savagery was its most chilling and agonizing aspect. The bombing was intended intended to maim.

Then, once the young men were spotted and, now, on the run, the incident became about neighborhoods. Locked doors. Working from home. Families in despair. Friends with amputations. It became about cousins. Aunts. Uncles. Absent parents. Tsarnaev’s aunt protesting: “Why FBI does not give me more?” His uncle’s outrage: “Turn yourself in. You brought shame on us!”

Equally riveted and exhausted that long week, we Bostonians felt helpless and lethargic. The ballast of normalcy had been rattled. We were keening.

Then it ended with a 19-year old hiding in a boat. A neighbor found him and it was over. Tamerlan, the older brother who died, had made good work of exploiting the quixotic neediness of a younger brother. I blame their mother for abandoning him and fanning the flames of their inevitable ruin.

This was an intimate crime. The picture I choose to hold on to when it is all said and done–and which was not chosen by Rolling Stone for their cover — is that of another intimate moment: a bequeathal of a young boy watching a marathon. In a second, 8-year-old Martin William Richard would be blown apart. But not before he could be seen first looking up, smiling, watching the runners, believing with anticipation and hopefulness, that well-run races end in the glorious moment of crossing the finish line.


About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.