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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: The Latest Face of Tragedy | Commentary by John Zaring | 04-17-2013
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1961 - CalArts grad (MFA '92) and marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Spongebob SquarePants, born in Oklahoma; developed prototype for Spongebob while studying at CalArts in 1989. Estimated net worth in 2012: $90 million [story]


johnzaring2012I was just about to submit this week’s column – yet another rant about continued Republican intransigence in the House on gun control and immigration reform – when news of the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon filled my Twitter feed.

Like many others, I quickly found a television and sat transfixed for the next several hours, paralyzed by the latest in a string of American tragedies unfolding in real time before the eyes of the world. I was glued to CNN, so transfixed that I forgot to hit send on the email that carried my column.

I’m glad I didn’t send it, because I needed to write this column instead.

In those early moments there wasn’t much information. No one knew if it was a bomb or some sort of organic accident. Over and over again I saw the same 40-second clip of the first explosion, watched 78-year-old runner Bill Iffreg of Washington – who was just yards from finishing his third Boston Marathon – get blown to the ground, but even more astonished to see the heroic volunteers and first responders who ran directly into the smoke and falling debris, seemingly oblivious to the danger and despair that awaited them while the gathered crowd scattered in more rational fear.

The second blast happened about 12 seconds later and a half block from the first, and with that, it became clear that this was no gas explosion. Someone did this. Someone intentionally perpetrated this mayhem and destruction. Someone set out to kill and maim anyone simply unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This was an act of terror, just like the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, or in Centennial Park at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Perhaps it was done by some lone-wolf domestic terrorist with an ax to grind or maybe an extremist group, either domestic or foreign, which believes spilling the blood of an unsuspecting collection of innocents is a justifiable means to an end.

Regardless of the “who,” I see it as nothing more than a simple act of cowardice.

In initial reports, we learned that two people had died, with upwards of 30 wounded. But as the minutes turned to hours, as is always the case in these types of situations, the number of injured began to climb. Soon 50, then 70, and when they announced more than 100 injured, I felt the same pit in my stomach, the same sense of dread and disbelief, the same sadness I had when the second plane hit the World Trade Center tower on 9-11.

Admittedly, once the final human toll was assessed – 3 dead and 179 wounded – the scope was not the same as 9-11. However, the feeling of helplessness when all you can do is watch is very much the same.

One of those among the unlucky was an 8-year-old boy named Martin Richard from nearby Dorchester, Mass., who was at the finish line with his mother Denise and sister Jane to watch his marathoner-dad Bill complete the Boston Marathon.

Seconds before the explosion, the little boy had happily run out onto the course to hug and kiss his father as he completed his race, and he was only back in his mother’s arms for a few seconds when the first bomb detonated.

Martin died instantly, while his 6-year-old sister lost a leg and his mother suffered serious head trauma.

In an instant, this family’s world was forever shattered.

I have been married for 22 glorious years, and like this family, we have two beautiful children we love more than life itself. As a runner, I know that you run the pace you run, and shaving even a few seconds off a personal best is almost impossible for a recreational athlete. Still, I cannot even begin to imagine the guilt this father will wrestle for the rest of his life, knowing that had he just ran a little faster, finished but a mere moment sooner, his family would have rotated out of the area and his son would be alive, his wife and daughter uninjured.

Folks, the fickle finger of fate is indiscriminate. Unforeseen if not unimagined tragedy can befall anyone of us at any moment, whether through a random act of terror like this one in Boston, an accident, or even an against-all-odds lightning strike. Still, I’m sure little Martin Richard’s father will wonder for the rest of his life: What if.

MartinRichard_BostonYou might have seen the picture of Martin with a homemade sign he made after the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre – it read “Stop Hurting People. Peace” – and it was his show of solidarity and strength for the families of the students and educators lost in Newtown.

How ironic that the same sort of random violence would find Martin and his family. How sad that America must once again grieve for an innocent child, slaughtered defenselessly for no other reason than just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you have children, give them an extra squeeze tonight, hug them just a little longer. Tell them you love them, because you never know when some lunatic with a gun or a bomb or a lightning bolt might take them away from you.

This is our world. America is our country. Make it a better place, try a little harder, be nicer. Help a total stranger tomorrow. Instead of pretending not to notice, be there with a kind word or a helping hand when a friend needs you. Tell the people you love just how much you love them.

Don’t take anything for granted, because while this all might sound corny, like some feel-good, self-help mumbo jumbo, you know what? It won’t hurt you to be a better person.

May God bless those whose lives were forever changed in Boston on Monday.

 

John Zaring describes himself as a reformed Republican turned moderate Democrat who believes democracy works best when its government actually functions because its leaders are working together. He serves on the Castaic Area Town Council’s Land Use Committee, Castaic Middle School’s Site Council, the Hart District’s WiSH Education Foundation, and he is the West Ranch High School representative on the Hart District’s Advisory Council. A self-proclaimed “New Democrat” a la Bill Clinton, he lives in Castaic with his wife of 21 years and their daughters, Fiona, 16, and Kylie, 12. His commentary publishes Tuesdays.

 

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