"The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast." – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

I woke up at 6 this morning to both my alarm and Carter reading me the news that an MIT Campus Police Officer, 26-year-old Sean Collier, had been shot and killed, that one of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects had been killed, and that a perimeter had been set up to try to sieve out the second suspect. The city of Boston is on lock-down. I have friends and mentors who live in Boston. I have friends and mentors who live in Texas, too – since I don’t want to disregard that tragedy. 

This has been a rough week, a bittersweet week, a week that began with both a bombing and excellent news about my father’s cancer prognosis and that ended with the news that another of my posts was being syndicated but also that a massive explosion has claimed dozens of lives and that a man was killed in the line of duty. 

And isn’t that they way it always goes? Life is bittersweet, I’ve found. We weigh our happiness and sadness against one another on one arm and then our lives as world citizens and as inhabitants of our own small spheres on the other. Great tragedy strikes our country and yet, on the same day, a family, somewhere in the South, receives the amazing news that the last scan is clean and that the cancer is completely gone. Bittersweet.  

When I was young, the world seemed ordered. This was, of course, the product of a carefully-kept routine devised by my parents and the adults in whose care I felt so safe. Breakfast before school. Recess. Afternoon snack. Playing outside. Dinner at 5:30. Bedtime at 8:00. The order of my life and the tiny, tiny world in which I lived made sense. 

But I’ve grown up, as have we all, and my world has expanded ever wider to include places like Afghanistan and North Korea and Chechnya in its sphere of knowledge. It has expanded to include tragedy and pain and loss and calamity. It has expanded in good ways, too, mind you, but so often, I think, it is the good in our world that goes without our notice. We take it for granted because it is good or feels good and don’t pay attention to it until the chaos enters again and reminds us that we are not infinite, that we are fragile. 

This week, nothing really makes sense. I’m baffled by the events of the last five days, so ironically coupled with the actions of our own Congress. I’m baffled by the the fact that to work in a school like Sandy Hook Elementary, I am required to submit to and pass a background check, but that to buy an assault rifle, I am not. I am baffled by the fact that terrorism exists at all. I am baffled by human cruelty as we sling words around as if they do not hurt, hiding behind Twitter accounts or news feeds. 

But more importantly, perhaps, I am baffled by human courage. 

This, my dear friends, has been a week of immense courage. I’ve seen the footage of people running towards the flames, towards the explosions, towards the chaos to help the wounded and the dying.  I’ve seen the footage at least a dozen times now and it gives me goosebumps every viewing. And a lump rises in my throat. And I shake my head and wonder if I could be that brave. 

And even now, as I type this, thousands of police officers and members of our armed forces are putting their lives on the line in a manhunt, as they search for the other suspect who is a 19 year old boy. 

Let’s think about that for a minute. 

The fugitive for whom we search so furtively is a 19 year old boy. I am not defending this young man. I am not defending his actions. I am not defending his cause, if he had one to begin with. 

I am merely remembering myself at 19. And I am trying to be compassionate. I would rather choose compassion over a knee-jerking reaction of hate. Because as Mahtma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” 

Our civilian friends in Boston are brave. Our marathon runners are brave. Our firefighters are brave. Our people, the families of all those who have perished this week, be it in Boston, or Texas, or in a hospital bed somewhere in America, they are brave. And people, all over the world, who wake up every day with chaos all around them and face life without averting their eyes – they are brave. 

I am not a timid person, but nor do I consider myself to be an especially courageous one either. But I think compassion is also brave. No, it is not looking danger in the eye. And no, it is not running into a burning building or a swarm of confusion following an explosion. But it is quietly brave and the world needs quietly brave people, too. 

In spite of its flaws, and one must admit that there are many, one of the things that has always impressed me the most about our country and its citizens is the unflagging hope and resilience of the American people. I’m not saying it’s unique to us and I’m not going to step up on a large soapbox and preach about American ideals and Manifest Destiny or whatnot. But I will say this – we will rebuild. If for no other reason than that is the only option we allow ourselves. 

And, while I speak for myself, I think this is true for so many of us – we will continue to hope for better. Because we believe that the vast majority of people are better. I, for one, have to believe that or everything else just seems too hard. 

Be safe. Be well. 

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  1. That’s wonderful news about your dad, Katie. It’s nice to see some bright spots in an otherwise bleak week.

  2. Beautiful. Thank you for this, Kate!

  3. Good to read some good news about your dad…………..

  4. “But I think compassion is also brave.” Yes. So, so true.

    Beautifully written.

    And wonderful news about your Dad. – Amy

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