I live in Newton, Mass. and Friday’s lockdown and its aftermath brought out my motherly instincts in a surprising way.
The day started with what I think is a pretty typical maternal response to hearing at 6:30 a.m. that a terrorist is on the loose, your town is locked down, you must bolt all your doors and stay away from your windows. I checked on my kids, locked the house and set about wondering how I was going to rearrange my schedule and keep the kids from freaking out.
All in all, I’m guessing my experience was similar to most parents in Newton, Belmont or Cambridge.
Until the ban lifted and the police cornered 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev bleeding in a boat in someone’s backyard.
Friends and their kids came over to grill a late dinner with us once the ban was lifted, and news streamed in as we talked about the week’s events. We talked about the cold-blooded atrocities the suspects had committed, our pride in the city, and what was likely to happen to Dzhokhar. We wanted justice. But to my surprise, I felt something different, too.
I was worried about him.
The news reports said there was blood around the boat and that he had almost certainly suffered gunshot wounds from the shoot-out the night before. It was likely he’d been there for quite a long time, hiding without food or water for 12 to 18 hours. He was likely feeling utterly trapped and alone — with helicopters overhead revealing thermal pictures of his body and law enforcement from many different agencies surrounding the house.
Please, don’t get me wrong. What the Tsarnaev brothers are alleged to have done is nothing short of horrific, and I reserve the bulk of my concern and prayers for their victims, where it belongs. I was relieved they had captured Dzhokhar and I am grateful that he will now be tried in a court of law. But I have a son, and regardless of what he’d done, it would kill me to think of him terrified, bleeding, vulnerable and at the end of any promise in his life. The mother in me felt that for someone else’s son too, even knowing that he is believed to have killed or harmed countless other mothers’ sons himself.
I didn’t mention my feelings that night. No one on the news was talking about him that way, and we weren’t at the dinner table, either. I went to sleep thinking of him, with less anger and more worry than I expected. Despite the fact that he had killed many others, I was relieved that they got him out of the boat without killing him.
The next morning, I played tennis with three female friends. All mothers. One had been in the grandstands with her 19-year-old daughter and her husband less than a quarter of a mile from the finish line when the explosions happened. She was stolid, though visibly traumatized, and taking care of her daughter’s trauma as well as anyone can.
At a break in our game, the fourth woman in our group confessed to us. “I kind of felt bad for him last night,” she said.
I admitted, “I did, too.” The other two players didn’t judge us, but they didn’t agree with us, either. I don’t blame them.
I think I formed a story about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Friday. I convinced myself it was all his brother’s doing and influence. That he followed along and didn’t really understand what he was doing. Maybe it’s just too much to fathom that he did know what he was doing.
When I told a male friend over lunch earlier this week that I felt a little motherly worry for the young man, he said, “I think to place a bomb like that, around kids, blow people up and then go back to your dorm room and back to school for two days… that’s just crazy.”
I felt a chill. He’s right. How can I be worried about someone like that?
But I admit, just the littlest bit, I still am.