I was born in Boston and although I lived there for less than 12 months and have no memories of my time there, I feel a unique connection to the city of Boston. It is as if a part of the city lives in me.
It is difficult to say why I feel this way about Boston. My family did not put any lasting roots down in the city and my first return visit to Boston wasn’t until I was 23; nevertheless, when I returned for the first time it felt like a homecoming.
I can imagine that many people feel the same way about the Boston Marathon. Being America’s oldest and largest marathon — it first began in 1897 and had 35,000 participants last year — I am sure that many people who came to Boston for the first time on Monday also felt a spirit of homecoming.
I think the reason we give particular places like Boston special significance is because we allow it to symbolize more than the place itself. A place, of course, can symbolize something good or bad, but which one it ultimately symbolizes depends on whether we choose to remember a place or are forced to remember a place. Because more often than not, when we choose to remember a place we are choosing to remember something good about that place, for unless we wish ill upon ourselves in a masochistic kind of way, we will not choose to remember the bad of a place. However, despite not choosing to remember the bad, we still do. Not because we wish to, but because we are forced to.
It is for this reason that the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon stirs us in deep and significant ways. Even if we want to remember the good in Boston on Monday April 15th we are forced to remember the bad.
We are forced by a sense of injustice to remember the 3 innocent lives that were taken, including 8-year old Martin Richard; we are forced by a sense of insecurity to remember our own vulnerability; and we are forced by a sense of loss to remember what once was but what can no longer be.
When I think of tragedies like the bombing at the Boston Marathon I am often reminded of the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was a place of fulfillment — a place where dreams had no limit and fear had no foothold — but it was also not a place that was immune from the world. When Adam and Eve decided to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, they were not just affecting their standing before God, they were affecting their standing in the Garden of Eden and in the world. For once they had eaten of the fruit, Adam and Eve would never be able to return to the Garden as it once was. Even if God had allowed Adam and Eve to stay in the Garden, it was too late. The Garden, the world, would never be the same.
In the same way, the bombing on Monday means that the Boston Marathon or the city of Boston will never be the same. Neither the marathon nor the city — and especially the families that were devastated by the bombings — can go back to a time before the bombing. They can never return to what it once was. Boston, and its marathon, will never be the same.
Evils in the world, like the bombing in Boston, force us to remember the bad in the world. They threaten to capture our imaginations of what is good. They place fear in our hearts and doubt in our minds. But this does not mean that the good is crushed under the weight of the bad. It simply means that we must choose to remember the good even though we so often feel forced to remember the bad. We must choose not to fear the evils of this world despite the fact that it is natural, and easy, to do so.
We do not fear the evils of this world because we are destined for a homecoming that is greater than any homecoming to Boston — we are destined for a homecoming to the Garden of Eden. Even though I have never been to and have no memories of the Garden, I feel a unique connection to it. I feel as though a part of the Garden lives in me. I often forget about it or ignore it in times of plenty, but in times of tragedy, when I need it the most, I remember the Garden as something good and something that was somehow lost or forgotten along the way.
I believe that the most important thing we can do in times of tragedy is to remember the Garden, to remember the good that we are coming home to, and to remember that this homecoming has already begun — even if it doesn’t always appear that way.
Flickr photo (cc) by jspad