Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Boston Marathon Bombing

I reconnected with an old friend yesterday.

I know, you're wondering what that has to do with the terror attack at the Boston Marathon.  It's an awfully strange way to start, right?  But it really is relevant, trust me.

Facebook sometimes shows you what your friends are commenting on.  Usually, reading through that is what gets me into trouble for busting into conversations where I wasn't invited, but this time what caught my attention was commentary on the page of a friend, classmate, and a guy I haven't talked to in a couple of long decades.

He's a neat guy.  (yes, I'll get to the point, I promise, but please, indulge my mental rambling for a few more)  We were both physics majors, a fact that qualified both of us to spend half of the summer before our senior year doing externships at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico and wreaking havoc on nearly the entire rest of the state during evenings and weekends.  He's the guy who won the mall date race, an event in which four of us cadets careened around the Santa Fe mall asking random girls to go out with us with no intro and no lead-in.  He got the first yes, a victory that we celebrated by playing the previously-recorded soundbox tape we'd made of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."  At full volume, of course, and with the lucky gal sandwiched into a four-seater car with us four cadets.

We dropped them off at the movies and picked them up once it was over, the non-dating trio of us applauding the gentle end-of-event kiss.  I wonder where that brave young lady ended up in life....

Hey, I never said what we did made sense.  We put an awful lot of miles on those rental cars that summer, and as I recall we blew up all but one in so doing.  We went horseback riding once, and my buddy talked the entire way there about how experienced he was at riding.  It seemed to impress the only girl, an Air Force Academy cadet who was also serving LANL on externship.  He was also the first--well, the only--guy to tumble off of his horse; as the sturdy animal went down into a ravine he pulled the rookie move of leaning forward instead of back.  We checked to make sure he was okay, of course, before we all broke out into guffaws.  Back then we were as falling-off-a-horse-proof as we were bulletproof. 

Fast forward a couple of decades.  My buddy is now a Johns Hopkins educated MD as well as a marathon runner who's at least good enough at it to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Incidentally, this post is what I was working at creating yesterday, but I was too awash in emotions then to write much of anything.

Horrified is a big part of what I was.  I mean, I've seen death before.  I've caused the death of many fish, birds, and other animals, generally because I was planning to eat them.  Then there's the reports we see every day of people killing people, and that's sad.  But events like this are entire orders of magnitude above that in terms of the emotional impact.  I can't even imagine how a human being could conceive of, much less plan and execute, a horrible attack like this one where people who are completely unrelated to anything are blasted out of their lives.  An eight year old boy just standing around was killed.  How does that equate with anything good in anybody's mind?

Another twang that idled around inside my emotional space involved both surprise and detached curiosity.  As I watched details emerge, I kept wondering what the perp was trying to achieve.  I mean, I'm not about to start listing better ways of murdering large numbers of people, but I will suggest that as terror attacks go, this one was pretty damn lame.  There are a lot of a lot of people jammed into a very small area at the start of the race.  Similarly, there are a lot of a lot of people jammed into a very small area as the winners are crossing the finish line.  Then, as the second place and third place finishers cross, the crowd begins to dissipate.  By the time you get to the ranks of also-finished, where I was when I completed the Marine Corps Marathon in just a couple of hours (a couple of hours more than the winner needed, that is), the crowd is pretty much--well, the crowd is as dispersed as you saw on the videos of the attack.  A dispersed crowd makes a strange target for terrorists, no?  Add to the curious targeting the fact that so far they've found two bombs that didn't go off at all, and the two that did go off were kind of underwhelming as blasts go, and this attack seemingly violates the "whatever you do in life, don't suck at it" principle.

Don't get me wrong--I'm glad they sucked.  I'm overjoyed that they sucked.  I'm just curious why someone would go to such horrific lengths to suck.  There are so many less-visible ways to suck; why do it where it's going to make every news channel in the nation? 

I did find a sliver of joy to add to the horror and the surprise yesterday, though, once the initial shock wore off.  Watch the videos again, if you will, but instead of focusing on the injuries, focus on the non-injured people.  They're all gathering in to help.  As a meme that went around Facebook yesterday suggested, the bad parts of yesterday were caused by one or a few evil people (who sucked).  The good parts of yesterday, though, were hundreds--thousands, perhaps--of people jumping in to lend a hand to their fellows whether they knew them or not.  Heroes.

That's where my buddy came in, by the way.  The conversation on his Facebook described how he'd finished his race and was well away from the danger, and yet as soon as the blasts happened he ran toward them to see what he could do to help.  Granted, there wasn't much--the authorities wisely began pushing non-authorites, even Johns Hopkins MD non-authorities, out of the line of danger in order to keep the non-injured from potentially joining the ranks of the casualties.  Still, I have to say it's good to know people like him, and to know of people like those on the videos, who band together in the face of adversity.  Likewise, it was good to see the authorities forming a human wall around the site, protecting it against a possible second attack.  There were many things about yesterday that made me proud. 

It's easy to be horrified for the victims, and we should be!  But it's also important that we celebrate the heroes of the day.  

So, that's my thoughts on yesterday.  My planned series on a journey through Canada will just have to wait till later this week.


EDIT: They're now saying that the reports of two bombs that failed to explode are incorrect.  Goes to show you how unreliable the same-day information can be, even from local traditional media sources.  Bombers' attempt still sucks, though.


  1. We can wait. Yesterday was too horrible. You commented on it very well. It's so hard to deal with with this type of senselessness.

  2. Well said Stephen. I choose to focus on the greatness of yesterday. It must outlive the terror and sadness.

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