Eric and I just returned from a weeklong vacation in Amsterdam. It’s been a dream of mine to see the tulips fields in bloom, and lucky for us, school vacation week happens to fall in the midst of tulip season. We had an incredible week, but one that was also tinged with disbelief and sadness.
While we were overseas, we closely followed the coverage of the terror experienced by our friends and neighbors in Boston. After returning from our evening ritual – dinner and a long walk – we sat transfixed by CNN’s coverage of the tragedy, watching deep into each night. It mattered little that the reporting became numbingly repetitive; we watched, I think, to help us process what was happening to our beloved city while we were away from it. Though neither of us are native to Massachusetts, it is absolutely true that Boston is the city we’ve adopted as our home. I’ve been a spectator at the marathon every year for the past ten, with the exception of this one. The city streets that became a crime scene and place of mourning this week? Eric proposed on one of them.
But what I’m thinking about tonight, more than anything, is how, or even if, I should address this with my students tomorrow. A week has passed since the explosions, and because we’ve all been on break, I have no idea how this tragedy might have touched the lives of my students. So, I could start just by checking in with each class on how they’ve been handling the events of the last week.
Beyond that, I can’t help but recognize connections to the literature we’ve been studying this year…and I worry that bringing these connections up in class might seem…callous? Insensitive? Manipulative of the devastation and rawness of the situation?
I’ve been thinking about the ways in which the hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reminded me of the search for Bigger Thomas in Native Son. And because I felt fear and empathy for Bigger in his situation, I can’t help but put myself in Tsarnaev’s shoes and wonder if he was scared to death knowing that he was being hunted. Is that weird? And then, of course, I feel like a hideous person for empathizing with a boy responsible for devastating so many.
In scrolling Facebook, I see tons of comments about how in Boston, when you f*ck with us, we shut the city down and hunt you. So, are we after justice or revenge? Are these two ideas distinct? Can we separate them? This leads me back to our class discussions of Frankenstein that concluded right before vacation. The cycle of revenge that Victor and the Creature embark on…are they truly trying to achieve justice for the wrongs they feel the other has caused? This only leads to their mutual destruction…so where are we, as a society, headed if revenge is our motive with Tsarnaev? In this instance, with three innocent dead and many more gravely injured, is it actually possible to distinguish justice from revenge? And can I attempt this conversation with my students, who are likely all over the place in their responses to this tragedy?