The images from Boston were so terrible, the news more heartbreaking every minute, and yet people ran into the noise and blood and screams to help. This is what we cling to in these moments. We cling to the courage of Victoria Soto, a teacher in Newtown, who stood in front of a madman’s fire to shield children. We cling to the strong voice of John Green, who endured the unimaginable loss of his daughter, Christina, in the gunfire in Tucson. We cling to the heroism of Dave Sanders, who warned and hid and shielded in the blurry bedlam of Columbine. We cling to the spirit of the many people who dug through the rubble on 9/11.
What else can we do in the horror of Boston? An eight year old boy rushes the finish line to hug his father? A moment later, a bomb goes off, and he is dead. There is no way to make sense of that. The bloody photos, the agonizing snippets of video, the faces contorted in pain. There is no way to make sense of that.
They have run the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day since 1897. It is utterly American. Even if you know nothing about it, you know something about it — you know someone who has run in it or someone who has wanted to run in it. You have run into people wearing Boston Marathon shirts or turned on the television and seen the shaky cameras as people run through the streets. You have heard about Heartbreak Hill, the last real test of the race, the last demanding climb near Boston College before the course straightens and gently declines toward a finish line that is down-wind and close enough to feel.
And when you contrast the power of the Boston Marathon — the energy and hope of all those people challenging themselves to achieve something large and ancient and life affirming — against the cowards’ concurrent bombs … no, there is no way to make sense of any of that.
But the heroes. We hold on to them. They ran in into the noise and fury. They carried the injured. They opened their homes to the stranded. There was the man in the cowboy hat, who ran alongside a young runner in a wheelchair and said those powerful words: Stay with me. There was the former football player, Joe Andruzzi, who lifted a woman who could not walk. There was a blur of others, so many others, most of them far from the cameras, who coaxed and warned and alerted and tried, somehow, to help.
Many people, in the aftermath, have written and talked about the imperfect world where we live. On Twitter, on Facebook, on the news, in the blogs, and the radio, you see and hear people grasping for something. We grasp for justice. We grasp for meaning. “We will find out who did this, we’ll find out why they did this,” President Obama said to everyone. We grasp for safety. We grasp for comfort. We grasp for answers.
None of those things are immediately present in the aftermath. There is one thing present: That powerful human need to help. That is our hope — in Boston, in Newtown, in Oklahoma City, in Columbine. People run toward the danger. People apply pressure to stop the bleeding. People send money they need. People pray for men and women and children they never met. People do stop attacks before they unleash and notice bombs before they go off.
Yes, this is our hope. All through the night, people in Boston wrote and talked about the terror and the pain, of course, but what was so striking is that they also wrote and talked about small kindnesses and large ones. They wrote and talked about the spirit of their city, and how it can never be broken. It was haunting and beautiful. And it was deeply true. This is something we hold on to in the moments of darkness. There are exponentially more good people than bad.