Boston: Stories of compassion


Earlier today, explosions rocked the Boston Marathon, resulting in deaths, injuries, and widespread fear through the city I now call home. I have never quite known what to say in the wake of a tragedy and my inclination has always been to say very little and, instead, to watch, to hope, to hold humans in my heart.

As phone calls and text messages started pouring in, the irony was not lost on us or on most of our friends that we have had to do this before: The shock after a bombing, the cycle of calling and texting, the confusion, the indignation at injustice. The brain has a way of linking these experiences together and every image of the blasts in Boston calls back the sounds of blasts in Uganda and Gaza and Bogotá and Jerusalem.

We are safe, and blessed with love---and, as we heal, we count those blessings.

Boston is a home so full of compassion that the Red Cross blood banks are full, only hours after the events transpired.

Boston is a home so full of compassion that some marathoners ran straight from the finish line to the hospital to donate blood.

Boston is a home so full of compassion that Bostonians are opening their homes to stranded runners, spectators, and their families who may need a place to stay for the night.

Boston is a home so full of compassion that in my graduate school community, within minutes of the explosions, students created a spreadsheet to track down runners and spectators, offered one another rides to get out of the blast zone, tracked down those who were momentarily unaccounted for, and held one another in kindness as we struggled to process what happened. Boston is a home full of humbling compassion.

The Atlantic is compiling these stories of kindness here today, and it is to these that we turn for hope in the wake of tragedy.

So now we wait. We share meals and feed one another. We watch TV together because companionship alleviates pain, and we turn it off when solace and quiet serve us better. We resist the inclination to judge or to jump to conclusions or to spread rumors. We photograph the beautiful sunset, or walk our dogs, or fold the laundry, in search of beauty or normalcy in the face of injustice. We shower our first responders with gratitude, and we are thankful for those who keep us safe and informed under these circumstances. We hold the wounded and those whom we have lost in our hearts, and open our hugs to those still in shock or grieving. We mourn together, as a community. We look for the light in our collective home. We ask questions, with patience through the slowness of the answers. We extend compassion. We love. We keep our hearts soft, stirring for hope and for the stories that will continue to fuel our faith in humanity.

This essay was originally posted on Stories of Conflict and Love.

The responsibility to love

eternally nostalgic

Life had been reduced to a stack of flashcards in the past week. The green ones contained information on United Nations peacekeeping missions: mandates, areas of deployment, challenges. The blue ones referred to peacekeeping doctrine. The orange ones summarized relevant legal citations. At the top of the flashcard stack rested a question: "What is the legal status of the Responsibility to Protect?" Affectionately dubbed R2P, this refers to the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. The questions of whose responsibility this is, how to uphold it, and where it fits on the spectrum of legal duty or interpreted responsibility are complex and controversial. Last night, at his speech upon being pronounced the winner of the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama articulated a different set of responsibilities, both on the part of leaders and of citizens. Among the many issues he touched upon, one stood out to me: his articulation of the responsibility to love and to serve. There is something refreshing, and new, and inspiring about the responsibility to love being framed as a duty in a speech on election night. At a time of prevalent cynicism, it is an exhale to hear a call for a triumph of compassion over cynicism. The inclusion of these words, and the lifestyles and ideologies they inspire, elevates them. It renders them necessary.

In my eyes, cynicism is easy. Compassion is a difficult practice. It is exactly that: a practice, a muscle that needs to be exercised. It is a stretch to be compassionate towards those who look different than we do, who behave differently than we do, who hold different values, whose ideology rests on different principles. But that is where empathy lies: in being able to extend compassion not only to those we already care about, but to those whom we do not know and whom we are not already programmed to love.

I am a foreigner in the United States (and everywhere?). A "non-immigrant", as my visa states. A "non-resident alien." I could not vote, though I do not consider the casting of a ballot the only way to formulate and articulate opinions that give one a stake in her own community. I have already handed in a midterm with many misgivings about whether "R2P is a legal duty or 'just' a responsibility." I woke up this morning, however, with no misgivings whatsoever about my responsibility to love.