As a member of the greater Boston community I have been immersed in the communal healing the last four months since the Marathon bombing. At the center of this healing is the rhetoric “Boston Strong.” On a reactionary level the phrase is a powerful witness of communal support and solidarity. To hear Bruins fans singing the national anthem with unmatched zeal in the first home game after the bombing was a testimony to the healing power of unity. However, the motto quickly moved from an organic term used for the virtuous purpose of fundraising for the victims and solidarity to a brand used by businesses looking to capitalize on its popularity.
Beyond entrepreneurs and corporations exploiting the phrase is a deeper reality of what the rhetoric points toward. Our community of greater Boston looks to the phrase “Boston Strong” as strength through solidarity; “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Strength in time of perceived crisis is an immediate reaction to a situation. It is the former of the instinctual “fight or flight” mechanism. In a time of fear, insecurity and unknowing, we are strong together. Agreed. However, now with one suspect deceased, one in custody, and passage of time, the immediate sense of fear and insecurity have worn off; so why not “Boston Strong”?
Perhaps we are stuck at the beginning of our communal healing and it is time to take the next step toward discovering a new approach. Quite often we hear that “we cannot let the terrorists win.” People go to the hatch-shell for the pops, ride the train, or attend a Sox game as a political statement against random violence. Is this the best approach to coming to terms with such violence? Is our city suddenly thrown into competition with terrorists? How do you win or lose in the face of such carnage, hatred, and violence? Strength is a word that suggests aggression, violence, or fight response when we are feeling vulnerable.
More subliminally, the origination of the slogan is directly linked with the recruitment slogan for the military “Army Strong”. We also see the word “strength” reinforced through the support our troops ribbon being re-purposed as the main logo for “Boston Strong”. The ribbon condones the notion that we are in competition, or rather combat, with terrorism. It encourages the public to understand random acts of violence and hate as an act of war. It is a direct association between the Marathon bombing and the occupation of Afghanistan. If our response is more violence the cycle of suffering will continue.
It is time for Boston to move beyond “Boston Strong” to a term that does not encourage more violence, but compassion and love. The only way to heal, the only way to counter-act hatred and violence, the only way to “win” against terrorism, is through forgiveness. When we are faced with people who declare themselves as our enemies, who maim our children and loved ones in the name of radical political fundamentalism, we are called to meet them with a radical sense of forgiveness.
Any sort of violence, especially the type we saw at the Marathon on April 15th, is an act of dehumanization. We should not continue to be involved in a competition of might and devaluation, but to rise above. We should not dehumanize the Tsarnaev brothers in retaliation, but rather acknowledge that they are flawed people just like you and I. They are not monsters, or evil, or the devil but two young men. As Sr. Helen Prejean said, “No person is as bad as their worst deed.”
Concretely what does this forgiveness look like? We had the opportunity to preserve Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s dignity by acknowledging he was a Cambridge resident, a member of our community, and lay him to rest within our community. Governor Patrick still has the capacity to issue a statement of public forgiveness to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on behalf of the Commonwealth for his actions. We as a people can pray for Dzhokhar to come to a place of conversion and repentance in our place of worship, on the streets, or in our hearts.
The only way to counter extreme devaluation, violence, and hatred is a radical display of love, peace, and forgiveness. What a political statement it would be if the greater Boston area took the spiritual charge of loving our enemies seriously. It is time to move away from “Boston Strong” towards “Boston Forgiveness.”