Boston is my hometown. I grew up in East Boston, went to college (and now grad school) in Cambridge, have lived around the city and now north of it. The street where the explosions rocked the city is the street where I work—where I run errands, enjoy the spring, endure the wind tunnel that it becomes in winter, and generally take in the city I love week after week.
It may sound strange and even provincial to admit this, but it’s difficult to believe that something like this could happen this city—my city. A place that’s always seemed alive with history, with warmth (even in the dead of winter), and with beauty. The street that has been my breezy lunchtime walk is now a place where a eight-year-old died. How does a city pick up the pieces in the aftermath of that? How do you walk that street again and not feel the tragedy seep into you?
Once, when I was teaching at a Jesuit high school, a young boy died after battling cancer. I didn’t know this boy, but many of my students were good friends of his and were grieving his death. So I found myself at a memorial service of a boy I’d never met because of a group of boys I knew quite well.
It was a devastating service—so hard to watch the freshmen boys who I knew by turns to be goofy, disorganized, earnest, and thoughtful to be gripped with sadness. I remember their grief, and I remember the words of the priest at that memorial mass, who spoke to the kids about loss.
He told them to essentially ignore anyone who said that this young boy’s passing was God’s will—that God would never have wanted to rob this child and his family of his life. God was not to be found in the cancer. God was to be found in the comfort everyone would help give each other afterward. In the kindness showed to friends and family, and in the love we all shared for one another.
It’s not easy to find God when a child dies of cancer or a bomb destroys the happiness and peace of a holiday afternoon, and a sporting event that draws the whole city together. But I’m trying to do so right now. For some, God can be found in a church or a synagogue, a mosque or a temple—in prayer or in song, alone or surrounded by community. For me, God will always be most present in my family, and in literature.
So, I’ll turn to my husband and my daughter, to all of my family, to L.M. Montgomery and Jane Austen, for my solace. And I’ll turn to George Eliot and Middlemarch, as I often do, and realize that even when darkness threatens to blot out the beauty of the world, the light remains and the goodness of people remains. Because, “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”