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I Do Want to Know

The events of last week, beginning with the bombing at the Boston Marathon, shocked and saddened me.  In that, I am sure that I am in good company.  The sudden transition from community gathering for a well-known and popular public event with a long history, to horrific scene of carnage and tragedy is, indeed, shocking.  Unlike much of the world, I have been shocked to the point of not knowing what to say... while all around me, the words have poured out from any number of people with plenty to say.

In the last couple of days, this bit has started to pop up on my Facebook feed, shared over and over and over:

I don't want to know his name. I don't want to see his face. I don't want to know his life's history, his back-story, who his family is, where he went to school, or what he liked to do in his spare time. I don't want to know what "cause", if any, he was fighting for. I don't want to know why he did it, or may have done it, or what possessed him to carry out his actions. I don't want to know. Because that's what he really wants. I'll be damned if I'm going to give him what he wants.

Put him on trial, but don't cover it. Tell me when you decide to jail him for three lifetimes - because that number matters. That's the number of lives he has to now pay for. That's all I want to know about him. Nothing else.

Instead, tell me about the first responders who ran towards the fray, within seconds, fearless. Tell me about the ones wearing the yellow volunteer jacket, or the neon police vest, or even the ones in the regular everyday t-shirt who became a helper. Tell me the story about the first responder who held gauze over a wound until they made it to the hospital. Tell me the story about the volunteer who held the hand of the injured spectator until they got into the ambulance. In six months, tell me the story of those who lost a limb, who beat the odds, pulled through countless surgeries, and are learning to walk again. Tell me the story about the love, the compassion, and the never-ending support of thousands, millions, of people who support the victims here. Tell me their stories. Tell me everything you can, because they are the ones that matter. Tell me of the good that they have done, are doing, and will continue to do, regardless of... No, not regardless of, in spite of. In spite of that someone who would do them harm. Because that's what freedom in this country means. It means coming together in the hardest of times, even in the face of unfathomable adversity, to make life better for all those around us.

Tell me the good stories. That's all I want to hear.

There is something so mean spirited, so unkind, and so unfeeling in that piece, that I am stunned that it has been spread far and wide across the wastelands of the Facebook network.

Here's the thing.  I've been teaching for 24 years.  A rough estimate puts the number of young ones who have passed through my classroom at about 1200.  I've taught anywhere from 5th grade to 8th grade, over the years, and my "kids" have been somewhere between 10 and 14 years old when they spend the year with me.  Some were sweet and others were funny.  Many have been shy and unsure of who they were growing up to be.  A few have been hurt, angry, sullen, and damaged, peering out at the world with suspicion that belied their young years.  The names and the faces blur together out behind me, hundreds and hundreds of them... and I look at the face staring out from my television screen, and absolutely know that the face of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the face of someone's son; someone's student, someone's neighbor.  

In fact, I think the faces of so many of these young, angry, violent young men look like the faces of so many of the boys I've known on their way to manhood.  Dylan Klebold, and James Holmes, and Jared Loughner, and Adam Lanza are all my boys.  Not literally, of course.  But, in the scheme of things, there is nothing notable that sets these few apart from the boys I've struggled with over missing homework, and playground bullying, and silly antics upon the sudden awareness that the world is full of GIRLS.  Which of these boys, grown into men, and then driven to acts of violence, would we have recognized when they were 10, or 11, or 12?  

Unlike the person who put that horrible piece out on Facebook, I DO want to know.  I want to know who this young, beautiful, wounded Dzhokhar is.  I want to know who touched him, and who loved him, and who hurt him.  I want to know when and how he came to feel so apart and so separated from the family of humanity that he was able to load his knapsack with a pressure cooker bomb, walk nonchalantly through the festive crowds at the finish line of the Boston marathon, set that homemade bomb down in the middle of all of that, and then walk away.  I want to know -- and I think you should want to know, too.  Because, all of those "experts" and "authorities" are right about one thing:  there is no way to prevent this kind of thing in our society; no way to lock everything down and tighten up the security enough to keep us all safe.  The only safety is to discover, in the most human part of ourselves, what it is that WE, as a society, as a world, as a species, are doing or not doing with and for our children so that they grow up to hate and kill and walk away.  

I want to know.  



  1. Swan,
    I think that this is the best post that I have read about the Boston Marathon bombing.
    This post brought tears to my eyes, and I am grateful that I found such an eloquent expression of how I feel.
    Thank you.
    Because we are all someone's child, student, neighbor, loved one...
    And I want to know why too.

  2. Swan, I want to know too.

    I sympathize a bit with the other, with not wanting to validate the bad stuff, with not wanting to forgive the bad stuff even.

    But I also feel like I need to know the story, the why of what he did. Why so many boys and young men go down a wrong incomprehensible violent path.


    1. sin --
      I agree. I think we can, in our very best selves, sympathize and grieve with the wounded and the grieving. I think we can stand in solidarity with a city that has demonstrated its resilience and shown its great heart. But, I also think we can and should, look with eyes of compassion and curiosity at these barely grown young men who come from our homes and our schools and our towns and cities, to commit unimaginable horrors. What is it that allows us to stand apart and not cry out in anguish for these who are "ours" as surely as those who died in the street on Monday a week ago?


  3. I absolutely agree with you, Sue. To know why is necessary, otherwise how can we improve matters with our young ones?

    I personally think that religion, and in particular Islam, is at this stage of humanity's progress a catalyst for violence, and that most of the blame for Boston's tragedy can be laid at Islam's door. I like to read Sam Harris's articles and books and there's one here that gives some idea of the hatred that is at the heart of Islam.

    I will probably post on my blog about this soon.

    1. Malcolm, I'd agree that it is religion that is, in some part, the vortex that swallows our young ones up whole. Unlike you, I am not convinced that Islam is more to blame than other forms of religiosity. The danger of telling an impressionable young person that there is "one true way that is worth dying for," is that if you are willing to die for it, you are also willing to kill for it. The precise nature of the scripture is really pretty irrelevant.


    2. Sue, I have a son who converted to Islam, and I love him dearly, so I would like to think the best of his religion; he sent me a copy of the Koran - have you read that book? I didn't get far with it before I put it down in disgust. If I was inclined to book-burning it would be the first one to get burned, but I keep it as a witness of the danger of radical religiosity.

      I won't reproduce here in a comment the pages of hate quotes Sam Harris extracted from the Koran, you can read them yourself at the link I provided in my first comment; I will just append Harris's summary from the end of his article:

      "The result is a unified message of triumphalism, otherworldliness, and religious hatred that has become a problem for the entire world. And the world still waits for moderate Muslims to speak honestly about it."

  4. Anonymous11:58 PM

    An informative read:

  5. Who we are, our life chances and the people who care for us (or don't for that matter) are important in helping to define who we become. There is such a fine line between good and bad, love and hate. I often wonder what makes someone move from being just angry to committing this kind of atrocity. I imagine this boy was influenced by his much older brother and in turn his friends and contacts. Somewhere out there though will be bewildered family members, friends, teachers who wonder how this young man ended up where he is today.

    Great and very thoughtful post Swan, thank you xx


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