Posted by rebecca.mcswain on April 21, 2013 at 1:55 AM

The terrible events of this past week in Boston have evoked a kind of helpless fury. Again. Just 4 months after another, even more horrific, slaughter of innocents.

Four hundred years ago the English essayist Francis Bacon warned against anger that can destroy its bearer, as some bees, stinging, are destroyed when the stinger lodges in the victim and tears out the insect's abdomen. But what other response is possible? What else could possibly be felt, for example, 12 years ago, watching the Towers fall? Immediately after the horror came the blind rage.

Almost exactly 43 years ago, on May 4, 1970, the National Guard killed 4 students at Kent State in Ohio. A few days later the Guard was bayonetting students in New Mexico, and before that summer was over, 6 more students had been shot and killed by police across the nation.  At the same moment thousands were dying in Vietnam. We were eating our own young, it seemed then. Yes, I was angry.  But it was, I wrote in my diary, a "moment of despair" as well. Death and destruction for nothing. Or death for some incomprehensible "reason" that has nothing to do with reason or rational thought. Death that, itself, comes out of anger. Apparently, in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers, it was the by now all-too-familiar anger of religious fanatics against a world that they feel won't validate their beliefs. Adam Lanza may have been angry at his mother, killing her before going on his horrific rampage in Connecticut. The banality of such a cause, yielding such an effect, is incredible to contemplate.

So here's the thing: the anger that we feel at these events is twin to the anger than caused them in the first place. It's the same human emotion. Recognizing that, then, what makes us - the victims, the observers - different from the killers? Well, we don't kill, not the way they do. The suspect trapped under a tarp in a boat in a yard in Watertown could have been gunned down like an animal, blown up - revenge, that momentary thrill of satisfaction and completion. But the vengeful stinger, buried in dense flesh, might have torn out, killing us a little.  We would have no chance to learn why the brothers did what they did or what others might be planning, or what kind of strange sickness creeps into our body politic, manifesting itself in these insane murders. More importantly, revenge taken, we would have demonstrated our similarity to the murderers. Somewhere the cycle of violent anger needs to be broken. Rational thought must be applied, the human capacity for reasoning has to trump the human capacity for anger, or we are lost.

I'm not talking about forgiveness here. That's just too bloody hard, can't truly be done, not really. The murder of innocents can't be forgiven. (Which brings uncomfortably to mind the effects of drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. But that's another topic.) I'm talking about reason, logic, and not destroying ourselves with our own fury.

And yet... a moment caught on video in Boston stays with me. Runners come toward us, almost home, dogged, triumphant - they've nearly made it. Suddenly, a blast, a billowing cloud of white smoke, and a runner falls, tumbles, his bare legs flying, smears of blood on the street. 


The British, Irish, and others around the world have lived with these kinds of horrors for many years, generations, but for us Americans, the world since 9/11 is frighteningly new on so many different levels. The anger begins to take root, a dangerous plant. What will the harvest be?

Boston on a different day, a collecting trip for the New England Aquarium: November 1, 1974

           I wheedled and cajoled the Boss into letting me go out with the Boys in the boat this afternoon. We had a beautiful time. They dove and I watched, rocking on the waves off Nahant. Warm day, haze on the horizon, but the sun was out until just before it went down, red over silver-blue water.They caught lobster and anemones; one lobster 7-1/2 pounds, B got. He – B –was shaking so with the cold - surface water was 45 degrees - that I had to put my arms around him.

            Just at the entrance to the inner harbor is a lighthouse, on a tiny pile of rocks ... When we came back at 4:30 the light was already working. That is one of the most reassuring sights in the world, a clear, strong beam of light at the edge of the dark.  Just before we passed Commonwealth Pier, going in, there was a powerful wave of odors – Chinese cooking (fried rice, soy sauce). Warm winds off the land as the sun was disappearing – the boat would pass through them as if in front of an oven, and the Boys and I would grin at each other and lift our heads to the warmth.

            Evening. Rain, and mobs on the Green Line – I was squashed between the door and two young Swedish men with bright narrow faces. To the movies in Harvard Square  – “Jeremiah Johnson” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” Drizzling rain, young panhandlers, music, and the usual crowds... Pure delight. 


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