Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Tragedy

There's been a lot going on in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy. Boston has been shut down today; transit is stopped, people are being told to stay inside, and a manhunt is sweeping part of the city where the second suspect (the first was killed this morning after engaging the police chasing him in a firefight) is thought to be hiding.

As people try to busy themselves in a city where time seems to be standing still, I can't help but think that everyone burying themselves in social media is trying to bury themselves from something else, too. When time speeds up again, for Boston and for the rest of the U.S., people are hoping time will have moved on and they can move on with it. Because we don't really know what to think about the tragedy. We don't really know what to say. It's terrible. Silent solidarity and busy nothings are all you have in the face of that.

But the solidarity being shown in Boston hasn't just been a sad reaction: it's been a main character on the stage. When the bombs went off at the finish line, people might have frozen. But they didn't. People who weren't badly hurt rushed to help those who were, and within hours, thousands of residents in Boston and nearby towns and cities were offering rides, homes, and couches for anyone who needed them. Some of the most necessary support came from perfect strangers.

One picture of a man stooping over a downed woman even spawned the tragic internet story that the two were a couple, and he had been planning on proposing at the finish line, but she was killed by the bomb blast. Luckily she wasn't killed; she sustained injuries that required surgery, but survived and is alright. The man? Rather than a grief-stricken fiance, he was a perfect stranger--which makes it possibly an even more romantic story than the one that spread like wildfire yesterday.

A social scientist couldn't help being wowed at the response in Boston. By all the laws of social science and what we understand about human nature, people should have frozen, fled, or run for cover when the bombs went off. That the complete opposite reaction occurred is practically a miracle in itself.

Sometimes, even when tragic things happen, there is good that comes from it. It may be a sad fact that when a hundred people witness a crime, they are far less likely to help than if just two of them do; but sometimes when something big happens, the part of your brain that tells you, "someone else will deal with it," instead cries, "everyone needs to help! If we do something, maybe other people will follow our example!"

And sometimes, your brain just snaps, and you just help, because that's what people do. We aren't computers, and we don't do things according to a program. While "people are stupid" still rings true in the world, we can also say firmly that when the world cracks open, people help each other to survive.

It's like Doctor Who said in that greatest of all episodes, Vincent and the Doctor:

"The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant."

The difficulty and tragedy of what happened in Boston may not be softened for some people, no matter how much others are offering to help. There may be no way to soften the losses some people are facing. But the fact that people died doesn't make others' efforts to help unimportant.

An onlooker at the finish line who was handing out American flags helps
one of the runners whose leg was critically wounded from the blast.


"It seems to me there's so much more to the world than the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamt of."
~Vincent Van Gogh (played by Tony Curran)