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Barbara O'Brien

Thoughts on the Bombing in Boston

By April 16, 2013

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In our Zen Center, the Kannon who usually greets us inside the front door has been moved to the zendo, where she sits on an altar for those suffering from yesterday's Boston Marathon bombing. Kannon is the Japanese name for Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.

One way to think of Kannon is as the activity of selfless compassion in the world. By many accounts, yesterday in Boston people ran toward the sounds of bombs and cries instead of away. The urge to help was stronger than the urge to flee from danger. This is the activity of selfless compassion.

Although I am far from Boston, I can appreciate what those present at yesterday's tragedy are feeling now. I was an eyewitness to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, so I know what it feels like when the veil of normalcy is suddenly and violently ripped apart.

The witnesses will need to talk about what they saw and experienced. They will need to tell this story many times, and listen to the stories of others. It may be a long time before the urge to tell the story fades away. And it's likely that from now on, they will divide all of their memories into those that came before The Incident, and those that came after.

The most compassionate thing to do for the witnesses is to just listen to them and honor their stories without judgment. The least compassionate thing is to co-opt their stories for use in some prefabricated agenda.

In the months after September 11, it felt as if the experience, and the mourning, had been ripped away from we witnesses. People who were far away from New York that day claimed possession of the tragedy and tried to dictate what we were all supposed to think and say and feel about it. And the people who claimed the experience didn't have a clue what it was really like. I hope that doesn't happen to Boston, although I'm seeing signs that it's starting already.

If you live and work in a place where terrorism has actually happened, you learn that you don't have the luxury of being afraid. For a while you may feel terribly vulnerable. You may be more aware than ever before that the bridge you drive over or the building you work in may collapse. You realize how ephemeral flesh and blood and bones really are.

But you have to get on with your life, and go to work, and drive over bridges and take subways and buses. You may see people on television scream at you that you must remain afraid, and you must hate and fear this or that group of people because They Are Them. Don't listen to this. You don't have to do any such thing.

May peace come to all beings.

April 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm
(1) sherry says:

I appreciate your insight for how we, those far away from Boston can help in making this tragedy heal a bit easier. Your first hand experience leaves no doubt in my mind on our needed behavior to those who witnessed and were Bostonian. As you said it effects a whole city not just those touched directly. I thank you for your honesty.

April 21, 2013 at 4:14 am
(2) robert says:

I live in Ireland and have lived through the violence of the 1970s and 1980s and I agree with your assessment. Such acts are a tragedy for us all as a society but I can never understand how people miles away from the events claim ownership of them.

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