I was in Boston two Mondays ago for the Boston Marathon, a race I attend every year. I’ve run it six times since 2006, but I decided to take a break from marathons in 2013. For the first time ever, I went simply to watch.
I’m not going to rehash what happened at 2:50 p.m. on April 15th, or my version of what happened. It doesn’t matter where I was when the bombs were detonated, only that I got away unscathed, and so did everyone I know. I’m more interested in the writing that flooded cyberspace in the days that followed.
And I’m not referring to the botched media coverage of the bombing itself.
There were Facebook updates describing the events from every possible perspective. There were blog posts ruminating on what happened and what it means. There were articles upon articles on running-related websites, in national newspapers, and anywhere else people could get something published quickly. As terrible as the bombings were, they inspired an outpouring of words.
One thing that many of those sentiments shared was an acknowledgement that were no words for what happened that day. The status updates, articles, and blog posts people wrote were earnest, self-conscious attempts to frame the tragedy, to understand it, to give it some shape — whether philosophical, political, or personal. Sometimes all three.
This disconnect, between the acknowledgement that there were no words for such a terrible thing and the sheer number of words it nonetheless inspired, struck me not for its apparent irony, but for what it reflects about us as human beings. Even as we sit dumbstruck by terrible things, we find the mental clarity to put words to paper.
Writing is thinking, and vice versa. What we saw in the days after the Boston bombing was a great many people — some professional writers, some not — trying to think about what happened. Some of them might have been seeking “closure,” whatever that means. Others might have wanted to exorcise the bad feelings that had settled inside them since the bombing, and were using writing as a kind of therapy. But those whose words had the deepest impact on me approached the event as something we did not yet understand, that perhaps we would never understand. For them, writing was simply a way to think about it — no answers, no conclusions, not even anger.
Maybe this is all that writing about tragedy should do. It won’t explain anything, it won’t ease any pain, and it won’t avenge those who have been hurt or killed. But it gives us an opportunity to think.