Boston Marathon bombing: Tomorrow, resilience; today, despair

Susan Reimer says that despite our brave talk, in the accumulation of tragedies, a part of us is permanently wounded

April 16, 2013|Susan Reimer

It is hard not to give in to despair.

In the hours since bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, forever marking in blood a day that celebrates spring, our nation's founding and the joy of the human body, there has been a lot of talk about resilience. About the resilience of the American people, of Boston people, of running people.

"Boston is a tough and resilient town," President Barack Obama told the country. "So are its people."

The Boston Globe's columnists are defiant, too. "Tomorrow, this city is going to get up and live its life," wrote Farah Stockman. "We are not going to let anyone stop us."

"We won't take cover. And we won't cower," wrote Scot Lehigh. "This, after all, is Boston."

But I am finding it hard not to give in to despair.

These tragedies, born of anger or madness, are beginning to tumble into each other, just like the runners who crowd into the chutes at the end of a marathon. And they are crowding out hope, trampling optimism.

Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11, the Washington Beltway sniper, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Gabrielle Giffords at the Tucson shopping center, the Aurora movie theater, Sandy Hook Elementary. Now Boston and its marathon.

We have a fixed response to these tragedies now. Run toward the blast, up the tower steps, into the burning building. Throw yourself over the body of the nearest child. Stanch the bleeding. Tackle the gunman.

Each new horror causes me to revisit the others, and the memories don't simply return. They come back stronger, amplified. You can never completely remove the stain of blood from the pavement or from the memory.

After so many assaults on the heart, I find the resilience of the American spirit that we like to crow about is just a word on a page. Small, flat and lost among all the other words. Words like shock, death, grief and children. Words like revenge, justice and war.

We won't give in to despair, of course. We love our public spaces, our freedom to assemble at malls, ballparks and road races. And nothing can tamp down the power of our routines. We will resume our daily lives quickly and without much trepidation. The flip side of resilience is our stubborn belief that tragedy is something that happens to someone else, somewhere else.

These very public horrors are layered, of course, with our private griefs. As our circle of loved ones, friends and simple acquaintances expands over time, like ripples in a pond, the phone begins to ring regularly with new bad news.

There are weddings and babies, sure. But it would take a lot of bridal showers and baptisms to counter the too-soon death of a dear friend, the cancer battle of a very young woman, the suicide of a girl, the grave illness of the father of young children, the inevitable winnowing of our aging contemporaries.

The more people you know, it seems, the more vulnerable you are.

For a moment at least, I would like to yield to sorrow, to tears. To admit that we are not built to emerge from such an accumulation of tragedy unscarred. That it is right and honest to find that some soft place inside us has been damaged, that there is a perceptible limp in our confident stride through life. That we are not the same as we were.

We are wounded. The meaning of all these deaths and maimings is, in part, that we are changed by them.

"So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that's it," said President Obama. "Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid."

I will be unafraid tomorrow. I will be resilient tomorrow. Today, I will give in to despair.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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