That’s the thought that echoed through my head when a Facebook post led me to the first harrowing reports of the bombs which exploded at the end of the Boston Marathon yesterday. Soon, the reality of two, shrapnel-loaded bombs set in, as I considered the city of my youth and the way it was now the site of a terrorist attack. I called family members who work near Boston and checked on people who would potentially have been in the race. And I considered how I, how the city, and how the country would react.
And frankly, I don’t care who did it or why it happened. I care that it keeps happening.
On April 16, 2007, a gunman walked onto the campus of Virginia Tech. Violence struck suddenly, as one person’s anger, rage, sickness, pain, frustration, and issues burst forth in an attack that left thirty-three people dead. Six years later, the VT community, the families, and the state of Virginia remembers, and celebrates that this was a dark day but evil will not win.
On April 15, 1945, several Negro League players were offered the “opportunity” to try out for the Boston Red Sox, but were not given a chance to make the team, including Jackie Robinson. A year later, Robinson would receive the invitation to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league team, and later make the big leagues. But the violence of his situation was not yet fully begun.
Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman is the embodiment of the verbal violence in the new film, 42. He hurls epithets at Robinson, not least of which is a barrage of the “n” word that becomes nearly overwhelming as it unfolds onscreen. But even fiercer still are the physical assaults Robinson endured (and sometimes nearly missed). And one of those came to mind yesterday as I reflected on the Marathon, on Tech, on 42, and on our response. Three “days,” two sporting events, three great violences, and one life lesson.
In one scene of the biopic, Robinson plays first base correctly, receives a ball thrown to him by the shortstop, easily getting out the batter, and finds himself in agony as the runner viciously cleats him in the calf. While a lesser man might have stayed down, and even more would’ve cried for revenge, Robinson tells his clamoring teammates that they will beat this assault by playing the game well… not by taking their revenge by the baseball code (allowing that the next batter up would be “plunked.”) Now, on April 15 each year, Major League Baseball celebrates “Jackie Robinson Day” because on April 15, 1947, two years later, Robinson broke the color barrier.
The code of public opinion says that we will spend the next few days peeling back the layers of the Marathon bombings, and then, like we have in the cases of the Sandyhook/Newtown tragedy and Tech, we will spend even longer on establishing the means and motives of those who caused such tragedies. We will lose sight of the victims, we will focus on vengeance, and we will fail to see that by our focus, we have given the evildoers their day: we have let them take our joy.
Now, honestly, I know that vengeance and justice often ride down the same road together for awhile. But if we can recognize that “vengeance is mine” from God (Romans 12:19) is for our own protection (check out Zero Dark Thirty), then we will consider what is truly important. We will recognize that there is nowhere “safe” because securing our world means losing our safety, that taking back vengeance means stealing our sense of freedom. Those who perpetrated the Marathon bombings deserve justice, but who we are afterward depends on who we become in the pursuit of that justice.
We need to recognize that our actions, our institutions, and our policies impact peace and justice everyday. That we have the power to change the currents of anger and vengeance by how we teach our children in our homes with our words and with our actions, that we can affect anger and hate by the decisions we make as a country and by the domestic policies aimed at schools, at communities, and at groups of people.
We will not eradicate evil without God’s help, but we can recognize that there are fundamental needs that all people deserve that they have been deprived. We can recognize that human free will always comes into play, but that nurturing and caring for those who are ignored, ostracized, rejected, and abused, we might in fact cause a day to come when no date will be remembered for its darkness but be remembered for its light.
Individually, we must remember that who we are speaks volumes when we’re knocked down and we get back up. That who we are and what we do can reflect that God wants us to live in love and peace with others. That lacing up your shoes and going for a run remembers those who have fallen. That next year, the Marathon will run, and we will shout back into the dark, “We will not be overcome! Our joy is greater than your evil!”
That peace begins with you and with me. That every time we choose not to fight back, to have the guts not to, that we speak to what our world could be and that others will notice, one at a time.