“Something Like This” Has Happened… Again
The Internet is, predictably, awash with words about/for Boston today. This is both good and necessary. We need to express our solidarity with and compassion for the victims, to give voice to our anger and sadness, to seek meaning and order amidst meaninglessness and chaos—to somehow bear witness that these things should not be. And so we talk and write and talk and write… and we try to keep the horror and the confusion at bay.
But our language around disaster always threatens to betray us or somehow let us down by degenerating into clichés and platitudes about “evildoers” and “terrorism” and “enemies of freedom” and “we will bring the perpetrators to justice” and “how could something like this happen here?” and “we must make sure nothing like this will ever happen again!” and “we are all sending our thoughts and prayers to Boston.” The words are always the same, and they never quite seem to fit. Even as we are flinging our words about, we know, I think, that they ring hollow.
For we know that there are no clean lines between “evildoers” and “the rest of us”—that the person or group of people responsible for yesterday’s bombing were quite likely nothing more (or less) than products of the usual, utterly banal and toxic mixture of hatred, desperation, loneliness, confused longing, mental illness, etc. We know that even if these people are found and are made to “feel the full force of justice,” that the result will not be true justice, but a mixture of state-sanctioned revenge and public catharsis that will, of course, be utterly unable to make things right for those who have suffered such grievous loss. We know that “something like this” will happen again—of course it will!—that it will be horrible, that it will entail all kinds of suffering and pain for innocent people in another city, at another time, another event. Indeed, we know that “something like this” is happening right now (and with a lot less publicity!) in places like Syria and Afghanistan and Colombia and Iran and Sudan and countless other places around the world that are far more well-acquainted with suffering than we in the West are. And we know that all the thoughts and prayers of the world have never been up to the task of preventing human violence and innocent suffering. We know these things.
But still, we speak, we write, we think, we pray. What else can we do? Even if the words seem worn-out and impotent, we need them. They are often all that we have. And no matter how ill-equipped they seem to the task of wresting goodness and hope and meaning from the pain of our world, they at the very least bear testimony to our deep-seated conviction that the world is not supposed to be like this—that we were made for love, not hate, peace, not violence, mutuality, not isolation, security, not fear, joy, not sorrow. If our words around tragedy do nothing more than clumsily gesture toward the hope that God has made us to hunger for, well, then they are surely worth the effort.
Anyway, enough words. Almost, at least. I have noticed over time that two of my posts from the past tend to get an unusual amount of traffic whenever very public kinds of tragedy strike, so I thought I would re-post the links here. The first addresses the common expression of shock that “something like this” could happen here. The second is a reflection about familiar language about sending our “thoughts and prayers” to all affected by senseless events like the bombing in Boston. These posts were obviously not written specifically with Boston in mind, but perhaps they contain some useful words for this latest reminder that all is not well in our world.