Boston, you’re my home: Your most powerful response to a tragedy

Shanti Pax was launched on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. I don’t want to relive that day or analyze the aftermath. Instead, I want to write about how we respond to traumatic events. But before I do, I want to tell the story of about Rita Jeptoo.

Rita Jeptoo winning the Boston Marathon 2013

Rita Jeptoo winning the Boston Marathon 2013

Rita Jeptoo from Eldoret, Kenya was the female winner of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Her first race in the U.S. was the 2006 Boston Marathon where she arrived late due to complications with her passport and was unable to preview the course. But she won anyway at 26 years old with a personal best. In 2013, now a mother, she won for the second time.

I want to congrate Rita and all the other athletes who competed on that day. Your victories were not overshadowed.

I often have a peculiar response to traumatic events: I am stoic. After years of working in intense environments and being exposed to the elements of human suffering, I sometimes detach emotionally to tragedy. But it wasn’t always this way.

When I started out as a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania at 22 years old, my eyes twinkled with idealism and my emotions popped like corn in hot oil at the sight of a stray dog.

I recall the first time I walked through Bucharest on a dusty day in June 1998, seeing a gang of dirty street children swarming around the Gara de Nord train station, huffing paint and feral.[i] My eyes stung with tears at the sight and I wanted to give them everything I had, including the clothes off my back.

This photo is pre-digital age. It was environmental camp taken near Tulcea, Romania in 1999.

This photo is pre-digital age. It was an environmental camp taken near Tulcea, Romania in 1999. I’m the chubby one in the front (the Romanian diet was not kind to me).

Two years later in 2000, as I prepared to return to the U.S., I was telling begging children asking me for less than a penny to buzz off. Throughout my time in Romania, I had been exposed to begging children on a daily basis, beaten down by the trials and tribulations of launching community projects, and taken advantage of. In two years, I had gone from ultra-idealist to ultra-cynic.

As the years have passed, I discovered that I could more effectively respond to crises being emotionally nonplussed (which also served as a self-defense mechanism). And this stoicism has been with me through the years during large scale tragedies, except in one area: my inner voice – which constantly nags me to get off my arse and do something.

But the bombings in Boston hit me hard — I was not stoic. My heart was heavy and I felt very, very sad. I could not reconcile that the targets were athletes at the finish line of a marathon. I knew that if we were reaching a point where marathon athletes were the target of random violence, there was a new urgency and imperative for us to act.

“Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”  – Jesus

In times like this, our initial emotional response is often to get angry, ask why, and seek justice. The problem is we don’t know what motivated two youths to commit such a heinous act. We know they came from a violent part of the world. We know today’s youth are exposed to countless acts of violence every day in their communities and on TV, movies, and video games. We know that people can be targets of brutal discrimination. There are countless motives, but the underlining emotion for engaging in a violent act is fear. These youths were holding on to a massive amount of fear that led them down the wrong path.

So how do we respond? We let go of our anger and reserve our emotional energy for forgiveness, sending love to the victims, and uniting to spread a message of love and peace.

And our most powerful response is: motivation to ACT.

And I’m challenging you to act right now. Here’s how:

ONE, if you haven’t already done so, subscribe to Shanti Pax. By doing this, you’re sending a message to yourself, the world, and the universe that you choose peace.

TWO, send love to the city of Boston. The video clip below is a fabulous song that I can’t get out of my head right now, called Dirty Water by The Standells (1966). If you listen to this song, you can’t help but feel love for Boston.

Love that dirty water and send all the loving energy you feel right now to greater Boston. Send it to the athletes, the victims, the families, the friends, and to anyone else you think may need it.

THREE and final, post a comment below! What was your initial emotional response to this tragedy and what is it now? How do you think we can best unite and take action in times of tragedy? What did you see in the aftermath that warmed your heart?

“Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.”  – St.Francis of Assisi

In the face of violence we may feel powerless, but we do have the power to love, and the power to act, and the highest power possible: to act with love.

If you liked this post, please “like” it and share it with your friend. And subscribe to Shanti Pax to receive inspirational stories of peace with lessons you can apply to your life.

Remember, it’s the little changes we make in our daily life that brings greater peace to the whole.


[i] Romania was ruled for 24 years by a cult of personality, named Nicoalae Ceaușescu. After his execution in 1989 and the iron curtains were rolled open, Romania revealed an epidemic of orphaned children. Ceaușescu had outlawed contraception in 1966 to increase the workforce, so abandoned children started overloading the orphanages and eventually moved to the streets, creating the so-called “street children.”

14 replies
  1. Pete
    Pete says:

    Thank you for channeling my anger, incomprehension and sadness into love, forgiveness and healing, Allyson. As a Bostonian, born and bred, I am grateful for your message of peace, compassion and love. Boston loves you! XOXOXO, Pete

    Reply
  2. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    Allyson, thank you for reaching out to all of us; for your caring; and for creating a dialogue amongst us. Upon hearing of the bombing, my thoughts went immediately to a family I know in Boston, of whom are runners. My friend was kind enough to contact me to say they were alright, although his son was at the marathon, two miles from the blast sights. And, as our fear morphs into sadness and then nationalism, that old human tribal response, all the folks in that Florida bar bounded.

    Reply
    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Ellen. You make an excellent point about how in times of tragedy, we often turn to our human tribal responses, such as nationalism. This needs to be a topic of a future blog post! I’m so grateful for your participation.

      Reply
  3. Guthrie
    Guthrie says:

    Reading both posts together really crystalized what I’ve been feeling since the bombing – my soul is so weary from all the bad happening in the world that I can barely summon up an appropriately deep enough response to more suffering. Just as we were beaten down by the suffering, cruelty and indifference in Romania, I feel like the wars, acts of terror and even extreme natural disasters are making me numb to the reality of what these things are doing to the world. I’ve reached the point where I’m relieved when the body count is in the single digits. And I don’t think that I’m the only one. That is not an appropriate response.

    So today I am pledging to work with you to remind people that peace is possible. Compassion is necessary. And that we can all make a difference.

    Reply
    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Thank you, Guthrie – who served with me in the Peace Corps (!) – for your powerful words!! Just turning on the nightly news can be numbing, but your pledge is inspiring. I’m 100% with you!

      Reply
  4. Denise
    Denise says:

    Wonderful post, Allyson! I truly believe that the collective consciousness has to change, one person at a time. It is so hard to feel compassion at this time, but this is the only answer!

    Reply
  5. Jen
    Jen says:

    Another thought provoking post. Thanks. It is hard to make sense of these acts and to understand the people who commit them. But we need to work together to help create a society where people do not feel the need to commit such awful chaos, death and destruction to others.

    Reply
  6. Stella
    Stella says:

    Allyson!

    You name it. Fear is the driving factor here. My first reaction to the Boston attacks? Fear. Very intense, sudden fear. And that is what all these kind of actions are about: they are born in fear and spread more fear. Like in a vicious circle. This circle needs to be interrupted. And the only way to do this is to breathe – and be grateful that you can-, and then to replace this fear with love, compassion for the victims, and doing more good in this world, no matter how little, to fight both fear and evil.

    Reply
    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Stella, you’re wise beyond your years! These type of events naturally spread fear, but we can reverse that if we set the intention to do so. The opposite of fear is love and love is the only thing that is real.

      Reply
  7. Mindi
    Mindi says:

    Weeks later, I am still struck by fear, agreeing completely with Stella. As a mother of three young children, I fear their world ahead of them. My daughter’s words just this night, “Not the news, mom, it’s violent and scary!” I was hit hard with those words. Stella also commented on being grateful. We are grateful for each day and the opportunity to contribute ourselves to this world. Allyson, your blog is helping me keep this thought at the forefront of my mind. How we live, impacts our children, and a good place to start is with my two favorite words – I CAN!

    Reply
    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Really appreciate this post!! And I couldn’t agree more that the news is violent and scary. But that’s not what is real. Most of humanity wants to spread acts of love and peace – and that’s the reality. And I love those words. It’s a Shanti Pax mantra, “I can. We can.”

      Reply

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