Searching for stories of hope in tragedy

Tuesday April 16, 2013 Written by Published in Raro on my mind

By now the world knows tragedy exploded in Boston this week.

News services are sharing cringe-worthy images of bloody carnage, limbs in the smoky street, and faces bearing sheer terror following the detonation of two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, a time-honoured institution and the runner’s Holy Grail.

Some 27,000 runners had been training for months in the lead-up to the event. They fought through blisters and sore knees and exhaustion to shave minutes off their personal bests. And then April rolled around, and they packed their runners and flew to the city of Boston in Massachusetts, many of them with entourages of supporters.

Three hours after an Ethiopian runner won the 26.2 mile (42.2 km) race, the bombs went off.

The runners nearing the finish line had been toughing it out for hours. Their energy must have been depleting and their muscles growing heavy. They were almost there.

Any athlete can relate to that feeling, the exhaustion that requires mental fortitude and self-talk to push past. That’s where these runners were at when they entered into an explosion of smoke and flames and shrapnel and body parts.

I spoke to a woman who was there, who remembers hearing the explosions and thinking they were cannons. But then a light pole next to her exploded and people started dropping to their knees, breaking down, screaming, frantically searching for people they knew.

“I can’t speak for everybody but a common fear was, ‘This is bad enough but it’s gonna get worse. What’s next?’ One explosion you might be able to explain, two puts you on red alert, three and four makes you wanna crawl into a hole,” she said to me.

Right now, America feels like crawling into a hole. Boston is the subject of all coffeehouse and dinnertime conversations, and it’s flooding TV and social media.

I was going to write about the offshore banking industry this week, in light of the International Consortium of Journalists story that broke this month and rippled through Rarotonga.

I was doing internet research, I’d checked out a book on offshore finance at the library, and I’d made a list of people whose brains I was keen to pick, but then someone went and planted bombs in Boston.

An eight-year-old boy was killed. Eight years old. He was standing near the finish line with his family, and he was killed. His mother suffered a brain injury and his six-year-old sister lost a leg.

These are tragic stories, written by senseless evil.

Still, in times of tragedy, we have to look for hope. It’s all we’ve got. The stories of hope are starting to emerge – the stories of the spectators who rushed not away from the explosion but toward it, the stories of the emergency responders who risked their lives to whisk victims to safety, the stories of strangers offering financial and moral support to victims and their families.

“Many were fleeing, but many were running to the wounded,” the Boston Globe reported on Tuesday. “They ripped down the metal barriers separating the runners from spectators. Unsure of whether there would be another explosion, these strangers risked their lives to help other strangers, performing CPR, comforting those in shock, and carrying the wounded to the nearby medical tent.”

There is a quote that’s gone viral, attributed to Fred Rogers, who died in 2003 but for years hosted a children’s television show in America.

“Look for the helpers,” he said, at the time referring to tragic events unfolding in the news. “You’ll always find people helping.”

The context of his quote is as follows: “I think if news programmes could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams, of showing medical people, anybody who is coming into a place where there’s a tragedy, to be sure that they include that – because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope,” he said.

Los Angeles comedian and writer Patton Oswalt wrote this on his Facebook in the wake of the Boston bombing:

“This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in a while, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

“But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evildoers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak.

“This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”

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