I never thought I’d be writing about tragedy again so soon. The Boston Marathon bombing on April 15 was yet another blow to my already damaged sense of security as a parent, coming as it did only four months after the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. What hope do we have of our children growing up in a world without fear of events like these?
I am a Boston-area resident and a lifelong New Englander. As it happened, my spouse and I had spent the better part of Sunday, April 14, walking around Copley Square in Boston, where the race ends, noting the crowd-control barricades already in place for the next day. In past years, I have been part of the Wellesley College “scream tunnel” that cheers the runners as they pass the campus. I have been grateful for the many who run the marathon in support of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where my father was treated several times. The marathon has long signified strength, courage, and Bay State spirit to me. The bombing felt like a desecration.
My nine-year-old son is old enough to know about the tragedy, but still young enough for my spouse and me to skip over some of the details. With him, I have emphasized my pride in the way our city came together after the bombing, both at the scene and during the later hunt for the suspects. What surprised me, though, was how quick he was to associate Newtown and the marathon bombing. When we explained that we didn’t know why people did the bombing, he said, “Just like that shooting in Connecticut.”
I don’t want my son growing up fearing that kind of random violence—and yet I remind myself that bombings and gun violence are common for many children, in war-torn countries around the world and in parts of our own country.
Even as we heal from the events in Boston, therefore, I hope we as a country work towards peace and security both at home and around the world.
That is why I am appalled that in other news last week, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill for stricter background checks on gun purchases. They flouted a groundswell of public support for such a measure in the wake of the Newtown shooting, and ignored the approximately 3,500 gun deaths in the United States since then (according to Slate magazine).
Neither suspect in the Boston bombing had a permit to carry the guns they used in their shootouts with authorities, reported the Boston Globe.
The Senate’s inaction horrifies me—and yet, it underscores just how fraught with political consequence it is to address violence—both gun violence and terrorism. How do we protect people while guaranteeing individual liberties? To what extent do individual liberties extend to owning assault weapons that can do grievous and widespread harm to other individuals? How do we search for perpetrators of violence without making assumptions based on race, ethnicity, class, or religion? How do we assure that their apprehension doesn’t cast a pall over others who share those parts of their identity? One’s answers to those questions often define one’s place on the political spectrum—although “spectrum” implies a sense of gradation that seems to exists less and less in our polarized society.
It feels as if our country has reached “Heartbreak Hill,” the Boston Marathon’s notoriously difficult ascent. The hill is not all that steep compared with much Massachusetts geography, but it comes late in the race, when exhaustion has begun to set in, and has ended the dreams of many runners.
I think our country may have reached its own “Heartbreak Hill” when it comes to violence. We have become so daunted by it that some, like the Senate, cannot find it within themselves to finish the race.
Heartbreak Hill’s past, however, may provide a glimpse of the future. The incline got its name in 1936 when defending champion Johnny Kelley passed Tarzan Brown there, giving Brown a pat on the back as he went by. Brown took offense and found the drive to win. Boston Globe sports editor Jerry Nason “saw it as the turning point of the race and dubbed it ‘Heartbreak Hill,’" reported the Globe in 1993.
Has the U.S. Senate given us the patronizing pat on the back we need to rally and address gun violence in our country? Has the Boston bombing—a pat on the back from those who did it, flouting the efforts made since 9/11 to stop such acts—given us the incentive to put aside partisan politics and address the issues that may lead to other forms of violence and terrorism, both at home and around the world?
Time will tell. But I hope we have reached a point where people are ready to say “Enough.” Where we parents are tired of fearing for our children every time we send them to school or take them to a sporting or entertainment venue. Where we will make it clear to politicians that our concern for our children trumps their concern for their seat or for lobbyists’ money.
It will be an uphill struggle. But if there’s one lesson the Boston Marathon has taught us, it’s that such struggles can be overcome.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.
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