April 24, 2012
A girl from my high school dies of leukemia. A friend of a friend. I didn’t know her well, and neither did many of the people who are suddenly coming out of the woodwork with testimonies about how wonderful Brittany was. I’m shaken, of course, but I also know that the emotions I’m experiencing aren’t grief. Not really. My heart breaks a little as I watch one of my closest friends—one of the people who knew Brittany best—retreat into her own pain and confusion, even as the rest of the school rallies together. She is angry. Angry that Brittany is dead and angry that people who barely cared about Brittany while she was alive are calling themselves her friends now. I wonder how to help bear someone’s burden, to validate someone’s grief without accidentally appropriating it.
December 14, 2012
I have been sitting on the floor of my band director’s office for an hour and a half. Beside me, my best friend Lindsay is curled into a ball, shaking. A man has just gunned down twenty children and six adults in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school. In another world, there is a message in my email inbox entitled Your Boston University Admission Decision. I had been less than a minute away from the moment of truth when I received the news that there had been a school shooting in the town where Lindsay’s relatives live. Her aunt works in the schools. She is safe, we learn, but a lot of other people aren’t. At home, I pull up the Applicant Link on my laptop. Congratulations. I close the lid. “I got into BU,” I tell my sister. She looks up at me questioningly. “So are you excited?” I say that yes, of course I am. Neither of us is convinced. I just got into my number one college, but there are twenty kids who will never even graduate from elementary school. I wonder how to construct my own private narrative when a personal milestone coincides with a devastating mass tragedy.
April 15, 2013
Two bombs detonate, seconds apart, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. People are asking me whether I am afraid to go to Boston now, whether I wish I had waited to commit. I find this silly. Anything could happen anywhere, I think. When a friend mentions the bombings to me, I tell her that the fact that this particular incident is peripherally more related to my life than other recent tragedies doesn’t really make it any scarier, and that while I’m sickened and depressed by the cruelty of which humans are capable, I don’t feel personally affected. I wonder if I should.
April 21, 2014
It’s Marathon Monday again, and this time I am here in Boston for it, standing against the fence along Beacon Street and cheering. Later, I read through the collection of raw, moving posts other writers have been saving for this day. More than anything else, I remember the helicopters. We huddled together, weeping, convinced that everyone we’d ever loved was dead. And how—my God, how do I make my hands stop shaking? In addition to making my heart ache, these pieces add to my sense of being an impostor, of intruding on the city’s reflection and on its reclamation of the event. After all, I didn’t hear the bombs go off. I didn’t have to hole up in a dorm room as the whole city went into lockdown. Part of me wishes I had been here, if only so I could understand what many of my friends went through last April. I examine the layers of those affected—victims to loved ones to bystanders to scared college students to people like me who showed up only later—and I wonder just how far the ripples of tragedy extend.
All I can hope for is that the ripple effect works in reverse as well. That by loving and caring for people, I am strengthening a network of support that will enable those people to pay my efforts forward. That by showing compassion without pretending to comprehend, I can serve as a witness to my loved ones’ hardships, regardless of where on the chain of repercussions they fall.