On Boston and the human desire to persevere

Firstly, apologies for two posts of this nature in a matter of hours. This one has been going through my head since Monday, but I wasn’t sure there was anything I could say about what happened. I’m still not sure if there is, but I can’t stop thinking about it, so I might as well write. 

And am I born to die? To lay this body down!

At 3:55 Eastern time on Monday, I received a text message from my mother. “R u at school or home” it read. Now, my mother was at work and wouldn’t normally bug me with a vague question like that unless something had happened. She knows I’ve only got one phone, so it wasn’t a matter of “where should I call you?” So my mind pretty quickly jumped to, “well, after nine years, something cataclysmic has finally happened in DC while I was here.” I had a brief moment of panic, but after telling her I was at school and just leaving she let me know that there had been a bombing in Boston. 

I walked back in and quickly read the news, caught myself up as much as I could and then headed out to go home. I wondered if there would be much extra security on metro, and I kept my headphones out of my ears just to keep them open in case there was anything to hear. Mind you, I wasn’t worried about my own safety, I was just curious to see if there would be any changes. 

I didn’t notice any, and the ride home was as normal as could be. Nothing had really settled in yet, and at this point it was just another news story; though undoubtedly a more troubling one than normal. 

And must my trembling spirit fly into a world unknown?

When I got home, though, I turned on the news and started making dinner. I heard President Obama’s initial address and was sitting down on the couch to eat as NBC continued to re-tell what little they knew. Mentally, I’d gone from feeling an analytical calm (hey, a news event happened), to feeling a quiet seething anger. “Why would anyone do anything like this?” I wondered. And the fact that I wasn’t alone in wondering such a thought offered no comfort. There is no answer that anyone could ever give that would offer any comfort. The images floating across my TV screen were those of senseless violence. 

At some point, still eating, I realized I wasn’t angry anymore. I mean, I was. That’s not going to disappear. But it wasn’t the prevailing emotion. Instead, I sat on my couch doing everything I could to not cry. I didn’t even notice the shift, and I was almost startled by the tears forming in my eyes. I’d gone from angry to impossibly sad in a matter of minutes. 

Soon as from earth I go, what will become of me?

The emotions are strange to me. I vividly remember the morning of 9/11, and not really feeling all that much. I was an entire continent away, and it just seemed like an insanely important news event. And while I am a fairly empathetic person, events of this nature generally don’t resonate with me. Maybe it was just the build-up of a world seemingly going to hell. One of my friends from undergrad was in the theatre in Aurora. Newtown shook me to my core. And now I was watching the tweets of another undergrad friend trying to get her oxygen-tank-needing grandmother home in a panicked Boston. Good news has been hard to come by lately, and I think it finally all just hit me. 

But, as always happens with a shocking event of this nature, we began to quickly hear stories of the people who are out there to prove that the evil in humanity is distinctly in the minority. Stories of runners who had finished the race running further to donate blood. Stories of people running not from the blasts but towards them to help those in need. Stories of family members doing whatever they could to get their loved ones home. 

Eternal happiness or woe must then my portion be?

Tuesday night I met two of my friends and two of my students at a church on Capitol Hill in DC for a shape-note sing. It’s a style of early American four-part singing that one of those friends had introduced me to a while ago. Sung mainly by amateurs in a full-throated style, it is an amazing type of music. There is no other type of song about which I speak like this, but singing shape-note music is cleansing for the soul. Those times when I have gotten to sit on one side of the square and just sing for all I am worth have left me refreshed in a way that nothing ever has. 

You’ve surely noticed the randome poetic lines sprinkled throughout this post. They’re from one of the very first tunes we sang on Tuesday night. It’s in a new tunebook called The Shenandoah Harmony and it’s called “Psalm 30.” Here, have a listen. Play it as loudly as your ears will handle: 

Look at that text. It’s the thoughts of someone who has no idea why we are here on Earth, or what will happen to us when we leave. It’s a dark text. In another tune that uses the same text, the fourth verse talks of rising from the grave and seeing the fiery skies. Make no mistakes, these are dark words, appropriate for dark times. 

Listen again, though. Tell me there isn’t a large measure of hope in that music. Tell me that there isn’t something amazingly uplifting about a bunch of people getting together to lift their voices in harmony and say, essentially, “Things look bleak, but hey, we’re all in this together.” There’s a solidarity of the human spirit in this music. 

But remember, music can’t express something that doesn’t exist. The solidarity of the human spirit isn’t just in this one tune. It exists in the human spirit. Things do look bleak lately. Aurora. Newtown. Boston. West, Texas. I’m really not certain if we’ll see that change anytime soon. But for all of the evil, horrible, gut-wrenching things out there, we all still have each other. We will all get through this together, and no matter what happens, we will be able to persevere. 

On Monday, I sent a friend a text message that said “The world is fucking terrible sometimes.” By Tuesday night, I realized that was unquestionably true, but it left out a big part. The world is fucking terrible sometimes, but it’s amazingly wonderful most of the time.