Yesterday around three o’clock I heard two cannons go off. It was Marathon Monday and the finish line is just a few blocks from our apartment, so it made perfect sense to me that someone would be firing off celebratory cannons. (I recognize that in the aftermath of the last 24 hours you could be wondering what special breed of idiot I am to think that, but in my defense, it’s a historic city and for some reasons I always associate cannons with something exciting happening.)
But then things got weird. Through the open windows that welcome the sounds of the south-side of the city, came sounds like thundering cattle. Within ten minutes I could detect a concerning number of ambulances and sirens. My cannon theory was coming unraveled. Then the hubs texted, “Caroline. Turn on the news.”
Definitely not celebratory cannons.
I’m not here to wax poetic or compare tragedies, but I will say this: the last time that someone said those exact words to me I was a senior in high school. My dad walked into my bedroom early on a September morning, pulled the covers back from my head, and said, “Caroline. Turn on the news.”
There were no celebratory cannons that day either.
In 2001 I lived so far away from New York that my mourning was little more than shock-induced patriotism. To this day I do not think any of us can fathom what truly took place on those city streets except those who were there. Then it was 3500 miles away. Yesterday it was three blocks. The tragedies incomparable, but the understanding that one brings to the other is invaluable.
Twelve years later and I’m almost thirty. I’m five months pregnant with a small boy. Another small boy, an eight year old, is killed three blocks from my house while cheering on his dad at the Boston Marathon. My small boy is snug as a bug in a uterus, bouncing up and down on my bladder like it’s a trampoline. Another small boy was waving a sign and bouncing up and down to get a glimpse of the finish over the taller crowd. My small boy is just learning how to live. Another small boy is dead.
The hubs texts again. This time it’s an expected stage of disbelief and grief. “Who the fuck sets off a bomb at the marathon?” I don’t have an answer. Then it’s his first paternal declaration, “Our small boy is never going to a public event. Ever.” Again, I don’t have an answer.
But I do have an answer. Our small boy will go. Because fear of tragedy will only breed in him a fear of life.
I don’t know how to raise a small boy into a grown man. I haven’t been given my parental membership card and I’m fairly certain that whomever is responsible for issuing them realizes I probably don’t deserve one. But I know that our small boy has to be given a chance to see the world as good, even if we’re standing in the wings, sick with worry. When he asks to climb higher, I know we need to respond with an emphatic “yes!” and try not to follow it up with a million caveats.
“Climb higher, small boy, and tell us what you see.”
And one day, a day I know will come sooner than it should, something terrible will happen. A single moment of bad will create a thick cloud of uncertainty and our small boy will look to us to tell him what it means. And while we may not be card-carrying parents, I know we have a responsibility to give him an answer. And though we’ll remember other small boys, like the one who died cheering on his dad at the marathon, we’ll also remember the grown men who rushed forward to right all the wrong, to clear the cloud of uncertainty.
“It’s a reminder that bad things happen. And then good things kick their asses.”