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The first anniversary of the marathon attack has Anita Diamant thinking about the families of those who lost their lives. This photo was taken at a vigil for the victims of the Boston Marathon explosions, Tuesday April 16, 2013. (Julio Cortez/AP)

In the long, sad run-up to the 2014 running of the Boston Marathon, I’ve been thinking about the families of the four people who died. The youngest was a baby, only 8-years-old, standing near the finish line with his family. The oldest was a 29-year-old woman with an impish smile and a reputation for kindness.

For the families and friends of those who died, this has been a year of heartbreaking firsts: the first Thanksgiving without her at the table, the first uncelebrated birthday of all the birthdays he was owed.

The coming marathon will be a public commemoration of their deaths. In Jewish tradition this is called a Yahrzeit, a year’s time, the annual remembrance that includes lighting a 24-hour candle and saying Kaddish, a prayer that requires the presence of at least 10 other people, because grief is even more unbearable if you’re standing alone.

The first anniversary is the most painful and the first Yahrzeit is the most difficult, not only because the wound is still so raw and the absence so vivid, but because they signify another ending.

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that grief is more than an emotion — it’s a place, a parallel universe in which “the valley of the shadow” is not a metaphor but an address. It is important and necessary to spend time in that shadow, to cry and wail. But it is unhealthy to stay too long. The first Yarhzeit is kind of an eviction notice. Time to turn away from the darkness.

This doesn’t mean “getting over it” or forgetting. The first anniversary might be the end of one kind of grief, but it is the beginning of the next stage. From then on, there may be visits to the grave, candles, prayers, memory, charity and tears. But death cannot have the last word.

And this is where the public has a meaningful and valid part to play.

We are here to provide a tangible form of sympathy to the bereaved, like the quorum of 10 who assemble so that Jewish mourners can recite Kaddish.

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that grief is more than an emotion — it’s a place, a parallel universe in which ‘the valley of the shadow’ is not a metaphor but an address.

Those of us who will line the racecourse on April 21 will be standing with the bereaved and with the wounded. Cheering for the runners doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten the dead, the injured or their loved ones. In fact, we will be cheering in solidarity with those who mourn, in memory of those died and in honor of those who are wounded and hurt.

We will cheer for the nurses and firefighters who ran toward the explosions and not away from them because of their commitment to life.

We will cheer for the impromptu memorials that cropped up around Boston and all over the world, monuments of sympathy made of shoes and flowers.

We will cheer for the generosity of the hundreds of thousands who gave millions of dollars.

We will cheer for the ways that human goodness trumps human evil.

The restaurants reopen, the memorials are digitized and the money is given where it will help. Life is relentless. Thank goodness, or if you prefer, thank God.

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Tags: 2014 Boston Marathon, Boston, Boston Marathon Bombings, Religion

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  • http://technologyreview.com Kyanna Sutton

    So beautifully written and profoundly true. Thank you, Anita!

  • ThirdWayForward

    We understand the grief part of this, we feel for those who were maimed irreversibly and whose loved ones were murdered, and understand the need to address the senseless loss on a community-wide scale.

    But our own dominant feeling is one of extreme anger towards the two sociopaths who caused all the unnecessary pain, suffering and loss. Nobody I know personally was killed or injured, but we often go to watch the runners, and on that day a family member was blocks away from the blasts, so it could easily have been me or someone I know. My reaction, both short-term and after months of processing this, is a strong sentiment for retribution, that mass murderers should be made to experience some fraction of the pain that they inflict on others.

    It seems that NONE of the public discussions and rituals deal with the deep ANGER a great many of us feel. The surviving Tsarnaev deserves to be put to death, with the same consideration that he gave to the innocent victims of his actions. It will be then and perhaps only then that justice will have been served and we can put away all that outrage we feel towards these two evil, rabid monsters.

    • pennyroyal

      don’t you realize that there is evil inside each one of us? Yes, you and I are capable of being monsters, too.
      Yours is a ‘just anger’ but there is so much more inner work to do than just process or act on anger. Anger is but one stage or part of our grief. Beyond this is an ocean of human suffering as the Buddhists say.
      Beneath the anger is fear, a fear we all have. Join the human race. We all can cause others to suffer.

      • ThirdWayForward

        I don’t doubt that every human being is capable of evil, given extreme facilitating circumstances, but I don’t think that that necessarily changes one’s concepts of reciprocity and justice. Large numbers of people live with all sorts of psychological stresses, but they don’t go out and try to murder and maim as many random innocent people as they can. Whatever the precipating circumstances, material or psychological, if I did such a thing, I would expect society to treat me in kind.

        I don’t think that anger necessarily comes from grief — where does this idea come from? Anger may be an alternative externally-directed response to pain caused by others vs. grief (sadness which is internally directed). The two are complementary ways of dealing with the injury — action vs. introspection.

        I also don’t think that anger necessarily comes from fear — I don’t fear the brothers Tsarnaev, not one bit, especially now that one is dead and the other in jail for the rest of his days. But I deeply despise what they did and feel strongly that they deserve the strongest retribution that we can deliver.

        We join human society (the human race, meaning species, is a biological concept) when we agree to cooperate on the most primitive basis, not to kill each other, and we leave it when we no longer act in a manner that upholds reciprocity. The brothers Tsarnaev left human society when they chose
        to kill and maim innocent people.

        I think that it is true that we all inadvertently cause others to suffer in one way or another, and that we do need to do what we can to recognize and minimize the suffering of others. But inadvertent causing of suffering is radically different from the deliberate infliction of suffering that was conceived and carried out by the brothers Tsarnaev. It’s a false moral equivalence to say that because all of us are sinners of one sort or another, all sins are therefore equal.

        • pennyroyal

          Thank you for your thoughtful reply.
          I don’t recall saying that anger comes from grief. I did say it’s a stage of grief (though the stages of grief notion, IMO, is of limited use.
          There is a just anger at wrongdoing and injustice. As poet Marge Piercy writes in “A Just Anger” (which you might like). She advocates for a Just Anger acted upon then says, “A just anger swallowed/clots the blood to slime.” Course Piercy is not recommending revenge or anything like that, rather she would advice a strong response.

          Yes, I can agree that we ‘join’ or become a part of civil society when we are part of a social contract of mutual regard and respect, non harming, etc. And in this sense the Tsarnaev brothers “left human society” when they killed.

          Your distinction on suffering is one I can accept. I see a distinction between necessary (recovery from surgery can be painful but the surgery necessary) and unnecessary (created by humans, wars, rapes, starvation, etc). However I did not and do not use the language of sin (and thus salvation), which I think over determines our thinking.

          That the bombings were heinous is beyond question. That the Tsarnaev brothers ostracized themselves from civil society in their violent plot and its aftermath may be true. That they are monsters, I wouldn’t go that far. That they are evil, no. That they did evil, I’m not even comfortable with that. I’m not not trying to duck your implied questions. They are ones we all face and must come to our own conclusions about.

          • ThirdWayForward

            I shouldn’t have used the word sin, which I agree has way too much baggage associated with it. In this context I meant in a non-metaphysical, non-religious general sense. We are all sinners in the sense that each of us at some point or another does things that we recognize one way or another as bad, things that we regret doing or that we would hope that we (and others) wouldn’t do.

            Monsters are violent, conscience-less creatures, and I think violent sociopaths do fit this definition. I think just about everyone, religious or irreligious, would agree that the marathon bombings were an evil act, both in intent and effect.

            But I am very unclear how we should deal as a society with the widespread anger that heinous acts like Oklahoma City, Columbine, 911, Newtown, and the Boston Marathon murders produce. The feelings of anger towards their perpetrators are real, and, I think, justified.

            As dangerous as it can be for individuals and societies to act out of anger, sometimes it can prompt needed action. It may be more dangerous not to acknowledge anger, to sweep it under the rug, to allow it to be manipulated by politcal shock jocks.

            n this case, the question is what actions should we take to minimize the chances of other alenated sociopaths carrying out similar actions in the future? Better access to mental health counseling might head off some violent acts and restricted access to rapid fire weapons would reduce casualties when unstable, alienated people do turn violent. Full employment would reduce a great deal of the despair out there. Maybe we can better identify those who are violence prone earlier on, before they fully act out those tendencies.

            In any case, alongside the public dealings with grief, we also need to recognize the anger we feel towards these villans, discuss it, and find ways to use it for constructive ends.

          • pennyroyal

            thanks, it’s late so I’ll just say that the original meaning of the word ‘sin’ was from archery. It means to aim and shoot an arrow and ‘to miss the mark’. In this sense it’s like a mistake, not the horrible version of ‘sin’ moderns are afflicted from pulpit and televangelists.

            Yes, anger is present and may be in a sense, justified, in the western sense. In the Buddhist sense it’s a ‘near enemy’ — a not always helpful emotion. But there it is, just or not.
            In terms of terrorism, it’s the urge for power and dominance, rapaciousness, rage, irrationality, paranoia, so many words and none may be right. That’s why I don’t think we should execute the remaining brother. Leave him with a lifetime to think and reflect and tell us what his thinking was then.

  • Nancy Marks

    This was wonderful. Thank you so much. I wanted to share with you an art show that you might find interesting.

    The Intimacy of Memory
    A mixed media exhibition on death and remembrance by
    Boston-based artist Nancy Marks

    April 3-May 15, 2014
    Gallery Talk and discussion: Thursday, April 24 7:00-8:30

    Beverly J. Tassinari Gallery
    Library-Academic Center
    Newbury College. 150 Fisher Ave. Brookline, MA 02445

    The Intimacy of Memory examines why people select a particular object
    or keepsake after someone close to them has died. Based on interviews with
    people who have lost loved ones, Marks explores the ways in which chosen
    objects represent the person who died, and the role these objects play in
    holding, shaping and prompting memory. Marks notes, “I felt the complexity of emotions of those I interviewed as the details of their relationships moved in and out my consciousness. As I painted, I became acutely aware of the cords of connection between the survivor and deceased that stretched from the present to the past and which, for many, still remain a constant.”

    The show is a series of acrylic and mixed media canvases captioned by brief
    excerpts from the hour‐long interviews. Curator Arthur Birkland explains that
    Marks’ process included listening to each interview several times, meditating
    on its unspoken narrative and photographing the objects. “Marks’ approach
    allowed her to honor the uniqueness of the relationships while providing the
    space to interpret the role the objects served in maintaining intimacy.” The distinctiveness of the show prompted Newbury College to add an artist-led public conversation on Thursday, April 24 from 7:00-8:30 on death and remembrance.

    This body of work seeded itself fifteen years ago when the biological mother of Marks’s adopted daughter died of AIDS. As Marks cleaned out the apartment, she had to make the challenging decision of what to keep for her daughter—which objects would hold the memory of her biological mother and bring her comfort—both in that moment, as well as throughout her life.

    About Nancy Marks

    Nancy Marks has been a printmaker and painter for more than twenty years. In additionto solo exhibitions, her work has been displayed in galleries, restaurants and corporate settings, and has been juried into numerous group shows. Her work can be seen at http://www.nancymarksartist.com. She is also the founder of Swing Dog Arts, an expressive arts and healing practice.

    About Newbury College

    Newbury College has been a leader in career-focused
    education for 50 years. http://www.newbury.edu
    Newbury College, 150 Fisher Ave. Brookline,
    MA 02445 617.730.7071

  • Vandermeer

    too much media hype on this tragedy…

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