Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Invincible Province of Why

It was the last hour of the last day of what had been a grueling tax season: countless W-2s, 1099s, K-1s streaming across my desk as mindless and relentless as a horde of zombies. More than a handful of clients I'm convinced actually were zombies. But we were within sight of shore, and all that was left was to make one final sweep to be certain we hadn't missed anyone who needed a filing extension. I could almost taste that first celebratory beer as I rattled off name after name to my buddy Karl, who flipped through the master list, found the name and confirmed: "EXT." We paused only briefly for Karl to pop down to his office to check his email. When he came back, he had terrible news.

The words "bombs" and "Boston Marathon" took some time to settle into my brain. With all that was already up there clogging the network, words like refund and estimate and extension, numbers like 8879, 7004, 4868, there simply wasn't room for what those other words conjured. I shook my head and sighed and, half a beat later, read off the next name.

I'm not a runner. Not even in my younger days of perpetual sport did I ever aspire to tackle any distance greater than the section of left field I had to cover to track down a long fly ball, or the ninety feet from one base to the next. But I've known distance runners, and over the years I've seen the coverage at the finish lines, particularly of the Boston Marathon, watched the masters of the sport competing against each other, followed by the multitudes competing not necessarily against but for a panoply of reasons as broad and mysterious as the human heart can conceive. And always I am struck by the same thought: it is so very far to go, and so very hard to do.

But this almost certainly wasn't about a foot race, was it? It was about thousands of people standing in one narrow corridor, cheering and laughing and celebrating a sense of achievement that is both singular and collective, on a bright beautiful day in a northeast city only recently thawed out from another arduous New England winter. An hour or so earlier the hometown team had walked off with a win in the ninth inning. It was Patriot's Day, that day set aside for denizens of Massachusetts and her formerly conjoined fraternal twin to the north to reflect on events that started in and around that very city and, ultimately, contributed to shaping a nation. It was a day replete with delight, leaving no room for thoughts of despair. Just happy, sun-warmed people of all ages, stacked six, ten, a dozen deep all along the sidewalks.

I've read and watched and listened to the coverage. I've seen the faces of the maimed, of the brave, of the stunned, and in my mind, suspended just below the outrage and the sorrow, flickering like a faulty fluorescent bulb, lies that sickening, maddening feeling of deja vu. It's Oklahoma City and Columbine and 9/11 and Aurora and Newtown and on and on and on and on. It is someone who doesn't know your name, has never looked into your eyes or so much as said hello, strolling away down the street, having left a satchel full of gunpowder and ball-bearings behind to blow off the leg of a five-year-old girl, and kill that little girl's eight-year-old brother. What politics, theology, or philosophy could ever reconcile the intent with that result?

Of course, when something like this happens, all we ever have are the questions. We hear them phrased every which way, these questions that beg to understand how it's possible for any one man's humanity to burn down to nothing but a coal-black cinder, leaving him utterly indifferent to the humanity of others. In the end those questions can all be distilled into that remarkably short but most densely fraught of all questions: why? And I, as I'm sure are so many of you, am so terribly, terribly tired of why.

1 comment:

  1. A powerful read as always Gary. You have an incredible flair for perspective.