Two explosions went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday killing three people and injuring over a hundred. One of the dead is an eight year old boy. Seventeen people are currently listed in critical condition and 25 in serious condition. At least 10 people injured had limbs amputated. The FAA placed a temporary flight restriction over the area as the police commissioner urged people to stay home and away from large crowds. Two other explosive devices were found near the finish line. Dr. Alisdair Conn, chief of emergency medicine described the blasts as military style bombing.
"This is like a bomb explosion we hear about in the news in Baghdad or Israel," Alisdair commented as he gave credit to a group of Israeli experts who came two years ago to Mass General Hospital to help them set up a disaster team for this kind of emergency. “Because of them, we were prepared.”
Within an hour of the explosions, NY police sent extra security to landmarks and the White House was placed on lock down. The Boston marathon has been run since 1897 on Patriots Day, the third Monday in April. Thousands of spectators were at the event along with 27,000 runners.
President Obama made a brief statement at the White House after sending his thoughts and prayers to the victims: "We still don't know who did this or why but make no mistake. We will get to the bottom of this. We will find out who did this. We will find out why they did this. Any responsible group will feel the full weight of justice."
As major cities around the country raised security alerts, and the Boston police continued to search the streets for possible undetected explosives, Americans waited to hear information. Who did it? Why did they do it? In this frightening age of terrorism we have no clear answers. The first questions that most reporters asked following the attack were: Were there any warning signs? Did the police receive any threats beforehand? And we are left dazed and shocked once again as officials struggle to find answers and really, few of us know how to react. What should we say? What can we do? How do we deal with this latest, outrageous act of terrorism that, in the words of one of the runners "was absolutely surreal"?
Here are four ways we can respond to terror.
1. Separate idealism from destruction. Many of us wonder: Why would someone plant bombs at a marathon finish line? What ideals were at stake? But it isn’t really relevant what the motivation of the terrorist was because while terrorists may declare their ideals, the only real goal of any terrorist is to destroy. Lives. Families. Societies. As Benjamin Netanyahu once said: “Terrorism is carried out purposefully, in cold-blooded, calculated fashion. The declared goals of the terrorist may change from place to place. He supposedly fights to remedy wrongs-social, religious, national, racial. But for all these problems his only solution is the demolition of the whole structure of society. No partial solution, not even the total redressing of the grievance he complains of, will satisfy him- until our social system is destroyed or delivered into his hands.”
2. Pray. Say a prayer not only for the victims and their families but for mankind. We are living in a generation when these attacks have become so common, some of us don’t even pause when we hear the latest news. Let’s stop. Think about those who were killed. Those who lost limbs. Those who lost any sense of normalcy and security. When we pray we are not only asking God to heal those who are injured, we are also sensitizing ourselves to share the burden of others in whatever way we can. Even if it’s just a moment of silence or a few sentences that we whisper to ourselves, it helps.
3. Help. One man who lives near the finish line in Boston reported that he brought 50 people into his condo immediately following the blasts. Many of them were runners who needed food and drink; most importantly, they just needed somewhere to go as police closed off the streets and blocked entrances to the hotels. Others gave blood as the victims arrived at the emergency rooms. But even for those of us who don’t live in Boston, there are other ways to help. We can send a card or a gift basket to the injured victims in the hospital or to their families. Or get involved in organizations that help terror victims and their families. Do something even if it’s just writing an email or tweet of support and comfort for the victims. Being proactive helps us to regain our hope and sanity.
4. Be grateful. After the attack, one of the runners kept repeating how it was such a beautiful day before the attack. Not too hot. Not too cold. Sunny and breezy. A person trains for months, maybe years to run a marathon. He wakes up the morning of the race, and the weather is perfect. Everything is in place, the race is going just as he envisioned it would be and then suddenly, one’s life is literally toppled over. This reminds us that we are not in control of our lives. And that we need to treat each day as its own gift. Appreciate what we have today. Every limb. Every breath. Every step.
As the news continues to trickle in about the eight year old child who was killed and the dozens of others who are still fighting for their lives, I think about what David Levithan wrote in Love is the Higher Law: “What separates us from animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” And so we do this today in the aftermath of the Boston terror attack. We mourn. We mourn for those who lost their lives. We mourn for those who lost their loved ones. And we mourn too for all of us, who have lost our bearings once again in a world torn apart by terror. May He give us the courage and the strength to help each other up and face yesterday’s brokenness together.