personal peace in a violent world (thoughts following the boston marathon)

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My world isn’t safe, but I am.

It’s a strange thought at the end of a strange day. I spent most of it glued to the Fletcher “Social” listserve, which launched into frenzied activity minutes after news of the blasts at the Boston Marathon went viral. The speed of the response rivaled Twitter.

Within moments, there was a spreadsheet to track the runners and spectators belonging to this close-knit community. Each individual is beloved, and has been traced and accounted for. Beautiful anecdotes have been shared, about how some of the runners ran straight to the Mass General Hospital to donate blood.

In spite of the flurry of supportive emails, the day was filled with the shock of shattered security. It has been a while since I felt this kind of pure panic; I was trying to remember the first time, but couldn’t pin it down. I think it was a blast at a congested marketplace in Islamabad, my home city. Even then, my family and I spent the day unable to tear ourselves away from the horrific images on television. It was an attack on the familiar, and hence on the feeling of invincibility that had previously placed a distance between the Islamabadi and the newspaper.

As a Pakistani, “mostly Muslim” girl studying at an international affairs institution in the US, a considerable amount of time has been spent coming to terms with multiple identities. In the classroom, in the dorm-room, I’ve donned default roles. And spoken about violence with passion, like it’s something I know about because it colours every day.

Today, I wasn’t anything but a friend of the many who made the effort to go out and support their causes at the Boston Marathon. I would have been one of them, had I not been preoccupied with papers on gender and conflict, education and conflict, law and development (and conflict). In my academic treatment of violence, I had forgotten what it could really mean.

Then, these images.

I wandered into the interfaith session at the school chapel with a friend, because we weren’t quite sure what else to do. The music was healing, the experience cathartic. A girl who had crossed the finish line just before the explosion came forward to speak with a steady voice and trembling hands. Another who was a volunteer said how at 9.58 a.m., her biggest concern was that Runner 26 had taken the water bottle belonging to Runner 980. Yet another broke down, asking, “Tomorrow will be better…won’t it?”

I didn’t know the answer to that. I don’t even know what forces of fate or circumstance have so far protected my personal “todays”. All I know is, the people I love are safe tonight, and for that I’m willing to fight for tomorrow.

I wish I could somehow promise certainty to all those who have been shaken – whose priorities have been rearranged, because people they care about have been hurt or unsafe. Keep running, Boston, because it’s all we can do.

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One response to “personal peace in a violent world (thoughts following the boston marathon)

  1. That’s exactly how I felt today: “my world isn’t safe, but I am.” As an Islamabadi, I thought I would be used to the news by now. But no. There was a false sense of security in Boston, and I’d never in a million years imagined today’s events. Yet there’s “beauty in the breakdown,” and the stories of kindness from all over the city have mollified the initial panic.

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