Today, I am in lockdown in my apartment in Cambridge, just a few blocks from where the suspects lived. There are helicopters circling overhead, and a constant stream of sirens in the streets. My Facebook feed is open and awash with news. They found the two who did it, allegedly. One is dead, and one is on the run.
I spent most of this week nauseous and emotionally exhausted thinking about the Marathon bombing. Everyone I know wanted to know who did it and why, as though putting a face, a name, and some sort of manifesto to the act would make this tragedy make any more sense.
I hoped they would be Americans. They were not. They were a pair of Islamic Chechen brothers who'd gone to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, a local high school. One was twenty-six. One was only nineteen.
I'm listening to interviews with Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends, family, classmates, coaches, and teachers. Of course, they are all shocked. They were such normal boys, they say. One was "a sweetheart," according to a former teacher. Their uncle, in heartbreakingly broken English, says he can't believe his nephews could be involved in "such terrible thing." This is to be expected. When someone you know turns out to be a murderer, the usual response is, "But they were so normal."
When a murderer is someone you don't know, on the other hand, the usual response is to point out how different they are from you. One of my Facebook friends posted a link to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's (probably fake--but it doesn't matter) twitter feed, laughing about how suddenly silent it was, with hashtags that were something like #freak #seewhereyourfilthymoralsleadyou. Another one posted a long status about how the "terrorists"** were "NOT one of us. They are NOT our neighbors. They are NOT our friends. They do NOT share our memories, our celebrations of Life, our cohesiveness in the face of unspeakable tragedy, nor any other of our ups or downs. They are NOT you, they are NOT me."
The thing is, they are. The reason this is so unsettling is because we know that really, these men were not so different from us. Any one of us could have made a bomb (there are instructions online, for godsake), carried it to the finish line in a backpack, and set it off. Any one of us could chose to channel our negative emotions into violence. We have all been hurt. We have all felt lonely and scared and desperate. Many of us have probably fantasized about hurting others, emotionally or physically. I know I have. When I was in middle school a couple years before Columbine, I wrote a long poem about coming back to my class reunion and shooting everyone. It was satirical, sure, but satire is just an exaggeration of what's really there.
Almost everyone I know has joked, at one point or another, about bombing the building of a job that fired them, shooting a person who cheated them or disagrees with their ideology, or setting fire to an old school. Yes, these are jokes, but they are funny because we all have a part inside of us that wants to react to our own hurt by hurting others.
The bombers made a terrible choice. It was a choice that killed innocent people, hurt many more, and caused fear and sadness in the lives of countless others. However, just as the bombers had the choice in how to channel their own pain and suffering, we now have the choice in how we will react.
I could have done this. You could have done this. The only thing that makes us "different" from the bombers is that we have chosen not to react to our anger with violence. I make that choice every second of every day, and so do you.
Now our choices are how we're going to move forward. Are we going to let this incident increase racism and fear in our country, or are we going rise above it? We get to choose, starting now.
**I wish we could not use the word "terrorism" around the bombing, especially until we know more. No matter what the dictionary definition says, because of how it's been used for the past twelve years, the word suggests that the bombers were acting in accordance with a larger group, and, since the suspects happen to be Islamic, it encourages the othering of all Muslims, and the idea of an evil, global, Islamic conspiracy. Please, chose your words carefully.