Friday, April 19, 2013

This Awful Week

I've had ideas for new pieces rolling around in my head this week, but everything seemed pretty trivial compared to what happened at Monday's Boston Marathon. While we lived in Boston, we took the girls to the race every year, watching near Heartbreak Hill at Boston College.  The race was on our minds, and we had talked with the girls about it Sunday night, lightly lamenting the fact that Patriot Day isn't a holiday in Arizona, like it is in New England. 

And then we saw the news. 

We have been riveted by the updates that have flowed this week, watching the press conferences and the vigils, and following the progress of the investigation.  We lived in Boston-- well Brighton, a town "within" Boston-- for only three years, but they were the years that the girls were forming their earliest memories, so even though they have little patience for the news, this has caught their attention, because they recognize the scenes they are seeing on TV.

Have the runners gone by yet-- could you pass the snacks? 
"Watching" the marathon a couple of years ago.

When I sat down this morning, I thought I would finally get this piece completed, but there have been new developments overnight.  The police action has moved into to our old neighborhood, so my attention has been drawn back to Boston, currently under lock down, with all public transit shut down as a law enforcement army conducts a manhunt for suspects identified on security film footage from, of all places, Lord & Taylor in Copley Square. 

It has been hard to process all of this, because it seems surreal in a way.  But the girls are asking questions, so there has to be a way to answer.  Delia stood watching the evening news as she undressed and redressed a Superstar Barbie, and asked, "Is that little boy they're showing dead?"  When I said that he was killed by the bomb at the Marathon, she looked alarmed, and asked how old he was, and if this had happened close to where we used to live.  She seemed slightly relieved when I showed her that the bombings had taken place downtown, not in our old neighborhood.  I added that rescuers had been able to save Martin's sister.  "But his parents must still be crying," she said after a minute, only leaving the room with Barbie when the commercial interrupted the news. 

Fiona was caught off guard by another detail, which was the explanation of how the bomb was made out of an ordinary pressure cooker.  She was sitting on my lap when she asked, "Is that a cooking pot?" 

When I said that it was, she said that " a evil guy or mad scientist must have made that plan to hurt a lot of people." I tried to follow Mr. Rogers' good advice and point out that many of the people who got hurt got lots of help from others around them, but she said, "but one evil guy can cause a lot of damage."

I don't think I was very effective with either of these exchanges.  The question for me has been how to talk about evil in a serious way that isn't going to worry the girls too much.  Even the word "evil" sounds so melodramatic or, worse, cartoonish, when you're talking to kids.  Studying philosophy, particularly ethics, I had several occasions to closely examine theodicy, the discussion of how we can reconcile evil around us with a belief in G-d or in some intrinsic human goodness.  The answer always seems to come down to faith that the world is unfolding as it should, albeit, in a way that we can't always understand.  It reminds me of talks I've had with Fiona about how some kitchen appliances work.  I was able to sensibly explain the toaster, but when we talked about the microwave recently, she threw up her hands and said, "I guess you don't know exactly, you just know it works." 

This is a lot like that, I think.  This week has been full of evil-- this bombing, a huge explosion in Texas, a poisoned letter sent to the president, the revelation that a justice of the peace and his wife are responsible for the execution-style slayings of prosecutors in Texas, the failure of our government to agree on gun control measures... And there's more, including war and unrest in progress all over the world, just the average awful stuff.

Meanwhile, I'm going to watch Boston catch the pressure cookers guys. That could be some evidence that good is just as powerful a force as evil.  I'm going to have to trust that eventually things work out as they should-- because if I don't believe it, I can't say it to the girls with a straight face.  They don't have to know how it happens, they just have to know that it works.

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