I returned from Boston yesterday; my week was mostly a business trip, but I made sure to carve out some time for sightseeing. Boston has long been my favorite city, and it did not disappoint last week.
One of my new favorite places is the Boston Public Library, with its arching ceilings and omnipresent murals – and, above all, its cavernous study room, complete with dozens upon dozens of green-shaded lamps. If ever a monument has been built to the notion of learning, expanded horizons and the acquisition and beneficial use of knowledge, this is it.
I went to the library Thursday. Across Copley Square, workers were finishing up construction of the grandstand at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And, of course, across the street from both the library and the grandstand, two bombs exploded during Monday’s marathon.
So many people I encountered in Boston, natives and tourists alike, were friendly, kind, helpful and – perhaps I was projecting a bit – seemingly thrilled to be in one of the world’s great cities. It’s hard to imagine how twisted by darkness one must be to experience what I experienced this weekend and remain committed to turning it into tragedy.
A friend of a friend posted this to Facebook. It captures my sentiments so well:
In the heart of this great old city, where it is richest and most resplendent with the legacy of its power, where even the churches look like fortresses, there is a library. And every single person who is anyone or no one at all can go there, they can wander the stacks, they can ask for help and find it, in a building that is as good as a palace or a fancy museum, except you can touch most everything. Even where it is old and musty and winding, it is a delight.
Once a year some of the finest athletes in the world, and some of the most dedicated amateurs in the world, run past this place to the finish line of one of the oldest continually held sporting events in the world; the culmination of a day when practically an entire city comes out to yell and cheer – 9-year-olds, drunk sophomores, Ethiopians, Brazilians, snobs in expensive coats, whatever.
And there, right there at the finish, where that great house for knowledge welcomes the long train of exhausted, elated finishers, triumphant in the sheer joy of completion, right there is where they set those bombs.
Many have been posting the famous quote from Fred Rogers – “look for the helpers.” In a similar vein, a friend posted the comments of comedian Patton Oswalt:
I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”
But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.
But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.
But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”
This reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Even in the face of such incomprehensible injustice – for certainly the death of an 8-year-old boy watching a race in which the competitors at the time were mostly running for charity can be described with no other word than that – we are reminded that we still can choose to bend that arc.
An Illinois senator named Barack Obama made this very point: “It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: It does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice.”
Robert Krulwich, NPR’s science blogger, made this connection last Christmas.
Do I think humans are getting gentler? Fairer? Having been one (a human, that is) for only 60 or so years, having missed any number of religious wars, pogroms, sacks, annihilations, cruelties, I’m not in a position to say. What I know is too little. But in my short time, I have also known kindness. I have loved others, been loved, and felt the power of it, the mystery of it. I know there is a fierce goodness in the world. It is there, stubborn, insistent, tenacious. The question is, why?
Maybe, as Kevin suggests, we have been seeded with a little angel dust; love and altruism have been given a teeny boost in us. If that’s so, I’m OK with that. I need the help. I am thankful for any angels I can get. But I’m also wary of my shortcomings, of my temper, of my capacity for not being kind. I certainly don’t feel like an angel.
I’d rather strive to stay ahead of my darkness, and keep aiming for the light.
Indeed. On the days that seem darkest, it’s easy to despair. But as we go forward in this life, tasked by God with helping to restore his good world, we must remember that not all is random. That we can make history’s arc bend just a little bit more, and in so doing combat the forces of darkness that won a small victory Monday in a war they have already lost.