Life is Made of Stories

Watching the moon, Edinburgh, 9pm

Watching the moon, Edinburgh, 9pm

When I woke up this morning, I read an alert on my phone from the NYTimes about a robbery, car-jacking, and intense chase then stand-off in Boston. I thought, more of what this city doesn’t need. How scary it must have been to wake up to this in the middle of the night. Andrew went to work. The morning unfolded, and I realized that I could watch BBC live updates online. It started with an early-morning press conference. And then I was hooked. As Andrew joked, that’s how they get you. But I needed to know. Something. Details, a solution, conclusion. Where are they? Who are they? I watched videos of residents who had bullets pass through their houses, people being evacuated, lock-downs being issued. I emailed my ex-boyfriend Ian (he’s a really good friend, I don’t know why I still insist on calling him my ex-boyfriend). I wrote, You okay? On lock-down? Am I silly to worry? Just keep in touch?

Hours later, he wrote back:

Boston is the last city that anyone should fuck with, of the 6 official wars that the US has been involved in (to include the American Revolution) Boston started two of them. There was a great quote that I heard today:
When Gotham needs a hero they turn to Batman,
When Boston needs a hero they turn to the person next to them.
That’s my city.


And the stories kept unraveling and every news outlet had a slightly different slant on the perpetrator. Was he on foot? Was he in a car? Did he run over his own brother in order to get away? Was he sighted? Were there more explosions? Armed and dangerous, they told us. Stay away. Do not approach, but call immediately if you see anything suspicious.

I woke up this morning hating these men. Hating that this happens. When I got in touch with my mother, she said: it will be okay – they will have him surrounded and most likely the last suspect will blow himself up too before they catch him the good thing is that they know who it is the sad thing is there are people like that in the world. And I thought: Good. They’ll find him. It’s just a matter of time. Like smoking out a fox. Like setting dogs after the scent. There will be justice at the end of the line. I jumped on the band wagon of wanting someone to be held accountable for all this fear, for all this carnage.

I was, like you, glued. To the news. To the screen. All day, switching back and forth between sources. Noticing the slight alterations, noting the differences in styles of reporting, in how the facts were traded around and around. Recycled truths. We know his name now, we have his uncle on the phone, we found a website. Here are some more pictures. Somewhere in there, I could see, they were searching for a story. But not his story. No, I spent the afternoon watching reporters ask witnesses leading questions, hearing as they set up speculations, tried to find evidence to back up the story they were already crafting. Wanting to find something to fit with the emerging picture they were painting.

I know the exact moment it shifted for me. I read somewhere, just a quick update, a live tweet, that one of the brothers called one of their uncles on Thursday evening saying, “Forgive me.” The longer article on The Journal News cites that the forgiveness was in reference to them not being in touch. A family dispute. Not greater forgiveness for a potential role in the chaos in Boston.

I feel like I’m losing my words a bit here. Here is where my brain gets really full and really conflicted. But I’ll try to dive in and continue on.

That was the moment that I started to see a picture forming for myself: of two young men. The youngest, a boy, really. 1:49pm update on the Guardian was an observation from Gilberto Junior, a mechanic who worked on the boy’s car:

“Gilberto Junior, 44, said that the man, who has been identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, appeared to be “very nervous.”

“He was biting his fingernails, and was shaky,” Junior said.

Tsarnaev had dropped of [sic] the car, which Junior described as a white Mercedes wagon, at the auto shop about two weeks earlier. It had rear bumper damage, and Tsarnaev had said it was his girlfriend’s. On Tuesday, when Tsarnaev suddenly returned, Junior told him the car wasn’t ready.

“I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I need the car right now,” Tsarnaev said, according to Junior.

The mechanic said Tsarnaev took the car without its rear bumper on.”

This doesn’t sound like a man who is sure of himself, a man who had this all planned out, a man whose sole thought was to inflict the most pain on as many people possible. To me, all I saw when I read this was a frightened boy.


I know this is going to sound very controversial, but at the end of the day today, I can feel the anxiety of the city of Boston, the pain of victims and of their families, and I can also feel the tension of a boy running from his choices, his actions, his involvement in whatever it was he was involved in. If he’s even running anymore. Some part of me is afraid that he will turn up dead already, lying somewhere lost in the city while the world hunts for him. I know a lot of people may be happy to see that happen. And I know a lot of people might be shocked to hear that I’m ending the day with pain in my heart for this boy as well as pain for the rest of us. But here is where this post initially came from: I am worried that we are living in a world that tries to cram everything into boxes, forcing everything to be black and white. I know that a lot of articles are emerging that paint a different picture of these men: their friends and family who are shocked. We might think that all friends and family of anyone would feel that way. But this is a different level of shock. As in, in what capacity could they do this?

At the end of the day, my question has changed from:

Who could have done this?


Who could have done this?

I feel like these are two very different questions to be asking.

I’m not ashamed or conflicted about how this all feels to me. I just have so many words swirling around in my head that it becomes difficult to let them all out in order. Words are important things. All day, too many people have been throwing them around. Don’t you know that what you say, especially on something like the internet, will live to outlast us all? Don’t you know that words are a force, an energy? What are you saying with your words? I’ve read a lot of “get these bastards,”-type posts, demonizing and condemning the men who are strangers to all but a short list of people in the world. I’m not trying to lionize them. I’m trying to humanize them. I’m trying to remember that there is more room for compassion and forgiveness in this world than we seem to make for it. I’m trying to conceptualize the universal truth that we all make choices, that all of our choices wield a double-edged sword. I’m not denying that these men committed actions that placed them in this situation. But who knows all of the actions? The motivations? The intentions? Who knows their stories? Not the stories they would weave to defend themselves. But the true story of their lives, of their thoughts, of their fears.

We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.

– Donald Miller


I wrote a letter to a friend today and ended it with a statement. After the statement, I wrote This is both true and untrue. The letter was coming to a natural close, so I didn’t want to drag it out. But what I really wanted to write: All things are both true and untrue. It is the basic nature of life to be a walk along a double-edged sword, facing in conflicting directions. It is a quality of being human to sustain and inflict all multitudes of joy and pain. Sometimes all at once, a moment can be both harsh and fine. To be human is a continual acceptance of our state of impurity. All things are colored, cut, weighted, true. We can both love and hate the same person, at the same time. We can both love and hate ourselves, and often do.

What I wanted to say: Fear is not something that is built or made. It is accepted. We acknowledge it and take it on. We choose to own it for a span of time. We act from within it. We react from within it. We blame it, force it upon others, because fear is ugly and we don’t want to be seen with it. But at the end of the day, it is no one else’s but our own. We only feel our own fears.

I am afraid that one day I will wake up, and it will be my best friend, my student, my husband, my son, who has made a bad choice, who has stepped into a world they may no longer recognize and acted out of fear, who becomes crucified by the world in the name of justice, and I am afraid that I will be the only one to know the true heart of his story. I am afraid that maybe not even I will know it.

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

– Muriel Rukeyser

At the end of the day, I don’t want to be afraid. Only I can allow my fear, and only I can free it.


2 thoughts on “Life is Made of Stories

  1. I totally get you. I plan to write more about this—on the aftermath of the bombing, of the manhunt, the chase, the what now? of it all. Compassion is never wrong, at least, not to me, and I always wish that people could spare more of it than hate.


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