On the “except” in my heart.

This will not be a very long post. I live just outside of Boston. This has been an awful week. But then, we’ve had awful weeks. We keep having them, awful news reaching us again and again from places far and near — nearer and nearer it seems every time. Sandy Hook. Pakistan. Virginia. India. Colorado. Boston. New York. Virginia again. D.C. Madrid. London. Moscow.

I wasn’t there, at the Boston marathon or in Watertown, but friends write to me and ask if I am all right.

I am…not altogether right, but right enough. Because life goes on every time, doesn’t it? It has for the long, long course of bloody human history. Long, long before Boston, before New York, before the word “terrorism” was coined. Today and tomorrow, and even on Monday night people had meals and sang songs and gave birth. It should be this way. And even in Boston we laughed at something funny and went to bed. Except at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Except at Mount Auburn. Except at the finish line, where people who do this for a living crawled around through the night, through drying and thickening pools of blood, collecting evidence.

It’s the “except” of these days that we live, over and over again. We are all right, but we are never quite all right, are we?

Today, I am all right, except for four fresh graves in my town. A child, a graduate student, a young entrepreneur, a police officer.

I am all right, except for torn-off limbs and severed dreams, lives forever changed and minds now focusing on how to continue in a wheel chair. How long before we can step onto Boylston Street before the Public Library without shuddering, feeling their blood churn under our feet?

boston marathon

We go on, but there’s more. Maybe, the worst of it for me. The worst of the “excepts.” Because we’ve been living with death and with pain and with change always, and we vow to remember, and we band together and go on, except… There’s a 19-year-old boy who fights for his life today, at the same Beth Israel hospital as almost a dozen victims from the marathon bombing, and we don’t know why he is there but we think we do, and of all the others who are hurt in this awful mess, he is the only one who might very well be better off dead.

I don’t know much about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I know what you know. Where he is from and who his brother was. And what he looks like — still a rounded face with the remnants of childhood’s puffiness in the cheeks, curls asking for a gust of wind, big brown eyes with all the questions still in them, unspilled, unanswered. He is a kid. He is one of my students. I look at his picture and wait for him to sweep the air with his eyelashes and ask if Hell were a compatible concept with the all-forgiving God.

I’ve read what you’ve read. His posts on his Facebook pages, American and Russian. Clowning videos, an awkward joke. A teenager asking Reality about itself. His post on Monday night about the mood in Boston. It ends: “Stay safe people.” It doesn’t read like a threat or a gloat. I don’t understand why he is there, at Beth Israel, after a 200-bullet rain and a manhunt left him bleeding to death inside somebody’s boat. What did he do? Why did he do it?

We don’t really know, do we? And we don’t know what the FBI knows. But we know they call him a “suspect.” His guilt still unproven, his involvement uncertain, he is the only source of information we have. I look at his picture and see a 19-year-old boy somehow involved with this monstrous thing that happened, and I don’t know why or how. Was it his brother? How much did he know? Did he go along? Did he have a choice? Was it a surprise, what happened? Is this face a deception, or did he find himself in the thick of something that collapsed over his head in smoke and blood and tearing flesh and the wailing of people he’d been walking among, to his own horror? And then it was too late, and they were here and there, shots and explosions, more and more death, their pictures everywhere and a rain of bullets, and his brother died in his arms and there was pain and blood and panic, more instinct than tactic, and he crawled under a tarp to die more than to hide… Was it like that?

boston marathon 2

They announced the boy will not be read Miranda rights. If he lives long enough to be interrogated — if he survives this first battle, for his own life — he will open his eyes to find no one who will protect him, no one on his side. The authorities have invoked the “public safety exception,” which means that, at least for some (uncertain period of) time, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has no rights. No right to have a lawyer present. No right to remain silent. Because we are scared enough, again, not to care about the law. We must know what he knows. Are there any other bombs? Are there any other accomplices? Were the brothers part of an international terrorist ring? He may or may not know. He may or may not want to tell. Then, they will make him. Because he has no right to remain silent. Not today. Today, we are scared.

So, here we go. Life goes on. Most of us go about our daily labors, and even the victims of the Boston marathon bombings and their families and friends will somehow find their ways forward — or so we hope — with our hands, thoughts, and prayers around them. I’d be all right with that. Except for this boy. Because I don’t understand what he’s done, and why he’s done it. And because this big nation, already so bitterly experienced in loss of life as well as in loss of identity, is letting itself get so scared that, if we find we didn’t kill him Thursday night, we will hide him from the law and torture him before we judge him.


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    • kathleen on April 20, 2013 at 20:30
    • Reply

    We must remember to pray for the accused who is, after all, one of God’s children.

    1. Amen.I have just been asked that you — all of you inclined to add your prayers for people shouldering the burden of these days — pray also for Dzhokhar’s lawyers. Those he will, hopefully, some day have. Those who will then have a hard, hard task ahead of them.

    • Marsha on April 22, 2013 at 21:12
    • Reply

    FYI, as flawed as the news reports have been, account after account from all the officers at the scene detail Dzohar and his brothers peppering police with gunfire, throwing bombs at them, and then Dzohar driving the stolen Mercedes SUV over his brother as he peeled out into the night, dragging his brother under the vehicle for half a block. I think he may have run out of time to say good bye.
    The videos that show him calmly, methodically, slipping the backpack off his shoulder and dropping it, taking a picture of it with his phone and walking away. Calmly watching the horror and the carnage and then slipping away. I agree that for his own sake, he’s be better off dead right now.

    1. Well, the question of Dzhokhar’s Miranda rights is now gratefully moot. You are right, of course, in that the questions I asked are just that: questions, and the answer could be “no.” He could be a monster. I painted a human face, partly to make a point, partly because there’s almost always a human face behind labels, news coverage, and sound bites. But he could have known everything and regretted nothing. My point is still that we don’t know. Even the evidence you cite is scarcely definitive either of foreknowledge or of state of mind, and more is contradictory. Some cops report he was shooting from the boat, others say he was found unarmed. We just…don’t know. One day, maybe even soon, we may. Or we may never know. We certainly will never know the whole depth of a human heart: his “why.” But it didn’t change my argument about his rights, his or our humanity, and the relationship between the three. You know?

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