It is a beautiful, hot May afternoon in Cambridge. The air is ripe with the smells of new leaves and drying dirt and flowers, almost in bloom. I like the lilacs best, but that might be a product of my granite roots. If you've read the last few posts and perhaps think that I am a font of spewing rage, wanting to clash violent pedagogies against sheer fury in a riot of destruction, I am not. I actively seek and enjoy happiness, I find the world more beautiful than terrible. The fury doesn’t negate or overshadow the beauty. The world is wonderful, but it is not perfect. Like Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius, the point is to do something to make the world more beautiful. And that can include admitting and working against injustice, which is bound to make a bunny a bit angry at time. The smell of the lilacs…this is both balm against the fury and something to fight for.
And so, making peace. No, I don’t know exactly how to do this. But I am trying, as many people are in a gorgeous variety of ways.
I went to The Massachusetts Poetry Festival this weekend. Driving past the ocean in Lynn, NPR informed me that the body of deceased suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has been removed to a funeral home in Worcester. This funeral home, Graham Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors, specializes in providing funeral services to the unpopular dead. The owner, Peter Stefan, said on air that he believes everyone deserves a respectful burial, and so his funeral parlor takes in poor people, murderers, criminals, and other dead bodies of unsavory origin.
I love this. To me, Peter Stefan is as much a hero as the citizens who ran towards the explosions, hearts and hands open to help the broken.
The night before the Boston lockdown—in those stranger hours after the suspects photos had been released and the desperate rampage from Cambridge to Watertown began—I attended a vigil in Somerville. Along with the runners who spoke, a man stood at the podium and yelled into the darkness and the assembled crowds that “this terrorist act was committed by people of hate, we are people of love. They should know that we will never change and be like them, these people of hate.” There was vitriol and hurt in his voice when he spoke the word “hate.” And there was applause from the vigil.
I did not clap. If we are people of love, truly, then how can we even speak of these “people of hate” with such hatred? And, if we are to not change, how can we learn? And if we do not learn, how can we stop filling the world with hate, with terror?
I thought again of this man, saying that we are people of love, as the radio tells me of people protesting outside the funeral home. What possible benefit can come, to anyone, of protesting the dead? All it does is fill a crowd with useless, directionless ire. Someone said to me, “ that is what he wanted, he wanted the hate.”
I do not know what this dead man and his brother wanted with their violence. But, if we could know, and know that they wanted hate, why are we giving into the hatred? Why are we, in response to hurt and fear and confusion, giving the terrorists that victory? We are better than this, America, Boston. If I am going to claim you as my city, keep you as my country with any pride, we must be.
I’ve been turning over some of Mariane Pearl’s words. For those who don’t remember, her husband was the journalist Danny Pearl who was kidnapped and decapitated by terrorists, on film, while Mariane was pregnant with their son. In her book, A Mighty Heart, she writes: “The task of changing a hate-filled world belongs to each one of us.” I read somewhere that every time she is happy, or their son smiles, she feels a hint of victory, that the terrorists have failed and not corrupted her ability to be happy, to love. If she can refuse to be corrupted by hate, who cannot try?
Currently, the dead body that was Tamerlan Tsarnaev cannot find a resting place. No cemetery in Massachusetts is yet able to take it in, to bury this body in the dirt where it can do no further harm. There are a few cemeteries that are willing, but the towns and cities of these cemeteries are unwilling.
This is egregious, just as egregious as attempting to kill innocent civilians at a marathon, really.
Denying anyone’s right to a good life and a peaceful death is a crime. If we do no different, we are no different.
It is not that I do not understand hurt, do not understand anger and shock and sadness and loss. I’m human, after all, and loss of life and limb and the punctured innocence of all involved in the Boston Marathon bombings are horrific.
But we cannot answer hate with hate. This is eye for eye, tooth for tooth. I need my eyes to see the lilacs, my teeth to tear into strawberries.
I was thinking all these swirling thoughts of hate and overreaction and how we’re forgetting our best selves, forgetting ourselves as people of love, how to make the dark parts of the world sweeter, how to heal…all of this as I attended the Poetry Festival in Salem.
At the keynote reading, the incredibly wise and dynamic poet Jill McDonough read her poem, “Accident, Mass. Ave.” You should read it here.
In the wake of this, our accident, we are just scared. The inability to let a body rest, this comes from fear of what was, not any recognition for what is. Its hard to admit to being afraid, but that seems a truer word. I do not know how to banish all hatred and fear, but it seems like making peace and meeting hate with love, truly, might be a better start than protesting the dead. One way will not change the past; the other may change the future.