It’s Time for America to Rebuild its Villages

For all of us Bostonians, last week brought a range of emotions – terror, anger, fear, relief, pride, and determination. During last Friday’s manhunt for Suspect #2 in the Boston Marathon bombing, my body felt especially tense. We awoke to news reports of an armed suspect on the loose in Watertown, his older brother and co-conspirator was dead after a violent police shootout, and several local cities and towns were on lockdown. With non-stop news on the television and radio, Kendra and I needed an escape. She chose her preferred route – shopping at Target – while I hit the trail with Addison at one of our favorite local hiking spots – Weir Hill in North Andover, MA.

As soon as we parked the car and set foot on the trail head, I began to feel more at ease. An older gentleman and woman were chatting as their dogs playfully circled them. With her usual lack of fear, Addie bounded up to them and asked permission to pet the dogs. In the process, she got some doggie kisses and snuggles. When she’d had her fill of petting the dogs, we began our trek. We’d barely moved forward when a garden snake slithered across the trail! We watched as its body quickly disappeared into the brush.

Now that Addison is older, I am letting her take the lead when we hike. She sets the pace, and when the opportunity arises, selects our route. On this particular day, she decided to follow the Johnson Trail. For the first five or six trail blazes she asked me to lift her up so she could touch them. Then she asked me to lift her up so her doll could touch them.

Hiking with Addison at Weir Hill in North Andover, MA

As we hiked through the woods, we each pointed out things that caught our eyes. I showed Addie the white mushrooms growing out of a fallen tree, while she pointed out the clouds overhead. She has become a confident hiker and explorer – taking the time to stop and inspect anything that catches her interest.

I tried to push the week’s events from my mind, but it was hard to keep away the painful images of my Outdoor Adventure Club member, Sydney, and her mom, Celeste, lying in the carnage of the marathon bombing. Nor was it easy to forget those in Boston proper, and surrounding towns, that were under order to stay inside as authorities hunted for Suspect #2. It was almost eerie to be outside hiking on a beautiful spring day while so many others in Greater Boston were on lockdown.

Every time my thoughts began to wander, Addie pulled me back to the present. The world is still fresh and beautiful to her – unmarred by tragic events, violence, or hatred.

Hiking with Addison at Weir Hill in North Andover, MA

Watching Addie’s delight with each new discovery, I couldn’t help but think of the marathon terrorists and wonder what had gone so drastically wrong that they grew up to commit such a horrific act of hate and violence. Children are not inherently bad – they are curious and often awed by life.

I do not understand hate, nor do I understand the desire to hurt others as a means of a political or religious statement. The terrorists’ actions were a brutal affront to the very fabric of humanity. I was torn between the feelings of hate and anger, and utter sadness that anyone could reach a place in their mind where such violence was justified, even necessary.

This Friday, just a week after the manhunt for Suspect #2 dramatically ended with law enforcement authorities capturing him alive, I attended a conference on Restorative Justice with my high school students. We were there to tape the day’s events for the school’s peer mediation group, yet found ourselves drawn into the conversation and discussion.

The keynote speaker was Janet Connors, a Dorchester-native whose son was brutally murdered in his apartment in 2001. As she told the painful story of burying her own child, tears slipped from my eyes. Rather than turn to hate, she used her son’s death as a means of moving forward. She described the process of restorative justice – holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, and finding the strength to forgive them. In her words:

The men who murdered my son were not monsters. They were another mother’s son. If I thought of them as monsters, then I let them off the hook for their actions, because then they were just doing what monsters do. I couldn’t do that – by recognizing their humanity, I held them accountable for their actions, because human beings are not supposed to kill each other.

Over time, Janet eventually met with two of the young men who were jailed for her son’s murder. Through restorative justice, she forgave them with the caveat that they couldn’t allow her son’s death to be meaningless. They needed to walk away from their violent, drug-abusive past, and return to their core selves as they rejoined the Dorchester community upon release from prison. As she said to them,

You’re coming back out into our community. If you keep doing dirt, then you’re hurting our community again. And for me you might as well kill my son all over again. So for me, that actual looking you in the eye, giving you forgiveness, not just in prayer or separate from you, has some accountability, and that I expect you to lead a good life. (http://www.humanmedia.org/catalog/program.php?products_id=314)

Amazingly, they have. I was touched by Janet’s story, and it got me thinking. I don’t believe such a philosophy can work for everyone – you would have to have remorse for your actions, and I do not believe that every criminal has that capacity. What struck me most was her comment that every “bad guy” is another mother’s son. At some point in their lives, the marathon bombers were little kids filled with innocence. Along the way, they lost sight of their true selves.

If we want to make this world a better place, as a society we need to do a better job of helping kids become loving, productive members of our community. The old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” comes to mind. We are all responsible for teaching our young children that they are loved and wanted, modeling the virtues of kindness and generosity, and holding young people accountable for their actions. If we preach hate for a group of people, make fun of others, or exclude someone because of their skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any other reason, then we are part of the problem, not the solution.

The Boston Marathon bombers committed a horrific act of violence and terrorism. It would be easy to turn to hate, and call them monsters, but then we would be letting them, and ourselves, off the hook. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (Strength to Love, 1963)

Rather than responding to the bombing with hate – extending our hate to Chechnyans, Muslims, or any other group we associated with the bombers, we need to turn to love. Love our neighbors, regardless of differences – learn who they are, introduce them to who they are. Realize that children aren’t born monsters, they become them over time. Step in when you see a child in need. Build connections, build community – build a village.

About Jen

Outdoor adventurer and traveler. Writer, Photographer & Communications Professor. Wife. Mom of twins plus one. Tubbs Snowshoes Ambassador. Blogger at gayfamilytrips.com.

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2 Responses to It’s Time for America to Rebuild its Villages

  1. Janeiack April 28, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Jen, I love how you are letting Addie choose the path when you are hiking. You are helping her become a thinking citizen. Thanks for sharing the words and wisdom of the mother who had lost her son. We all hope Boston keeps healing.

  2. JessLif April 29, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    Thank you for that post. I was deeply moved by it and found it so necessary in this time of uncertainty. It is so easy to choose rage and hate towards these brothers and so much harder to choose compassion and forgiveness, but your post manages to do just that while still holding them accountable for the horrific acts they have committed. You words really resonated with me. Thank you for them.

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