The first speaker to break the Quaker Meeting silence at Beacon Hill Friends House Sunday described a scenario that most of us had experienced ourselves during Boston’s painful past week. She had heard from friends all over the world, each of them asking, one way or another, “Are you OK?”
Although she had escaped physical injury during a week that included death and maiming by bombs and guns, she concluded: “I am not OK.” In fact, she added, the week’s events had prompted her to reevaluate just what is meant by the term ‘OK.’
My wife, Carol, and I are planning to move to Boston in June, and Carol was among the spectators lining the route of the marathon along with our daughter, Kate, our son-in-law, Marton, and our 2-month-old granddaughter, Leila. I spent most of the week in Egypt, working on a project aimed at spreading the best social media practices of the Arab Spring, and discovering new ways of sustaining independent media.
I first heard of the bombing while answering email in my Cairo hotel room last Monday night. I was startled by the subject line of a message from a friend in Dublin: “Everyone OK?” We were, thankfully, but perhaps no more so than the speaker at the Quaker Meeting.
A few days later, in a session with student and faculty on the oasis-like campus of the American University of Cairo, I got a feel for some of the impact that 18 days of revolution had on the Egyptian community.
Hassan H. Mohamed, a social media activist and advertising specialist, told us that amid the chaos of the revolution, his sister plowed her car into a taxi. “It was all her fault,” he pointed out, “entirely her fault!” She braced herself for a verbal assault from one of Cairo’s legendarily aggressive cab drivers. Instead, Mohamed related, “The taxi driver told her it was OK, that we were all in this together, and that she should just go home and not worry about the damage to his cab.” Mohamed said, “For 18 days we had a spirit of unity.”
That spirit of generosity has not survived subsequent events in Egypt. An AUC teacher, Galal Zaki, said that must be addressed one Egyptian at a time, each encouraged to do something to restore the unity lost.
Driving around Boston on Saturday, I wondered what it would take for the spirit of the “We are one Boston” signs along the road to take permanent root in the region?
What would it take, in other words, for a transformative narrative to emerge from the Marathon bombings — actions and stories that help facilitate recovery from trauma and inspire significant change for the better?
One answer came from another speaker at Beacon Hill Friends. Noting that she’d been spending a lot of time recently working in a Dorchester community garden, she encouraged us to think of what we can do with our hands.
That got me thinking about first-responders, and the lives they saved with their hands. It got me thinking of my visit to the makeshift memorial on Boylston Street that runners and others created with their hands. It got me thinking about some things I can do with my hands, if only on a keyboard.
For all the social media witch hunts and other abuses in the aftermath of the bombings, the opportunity to create media that heals rather than hates has never been greater. A new culture of “crowdcaring” appears to be taking hold, with social media activists and journalists alike developing apps and compassionate ideas to ease people’s pain and, well, act as if we really are all in this together.
In the hours immediately following the bombings, for example, Google made its People-Finder available to help people unable to connect with loved ones. And people throughout the region volunteered help on a Google Doc titled “I have a place to offer” linked from the Boston Globe’s website.
Although the specific need for those sites has passed, other needs remain. Will someone crowdcare those? Will I?
Shortly after touching down at Logan from Cairo Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with our son, Matt, who lives in California. “How does it feel,” he asked, “to fly home from the Middle East to a war zone?”
I didn’t have a good answer for Matt on Friday. But I think I’m getting closer to being able to tell him: “It feels OK.”