the boy in the boat

I ache for all those affected…

I ache for all of them, even the boy in the boat.

AP Photo/Massachusetts State Police
AP Photo/Massachusetts State Police

The horror of the last few days has been unimaginable, not so much for me, for I viewed it from the safety of home, wrapped in the warm embrace of loved ones, but for those who tasted the bite of fear and the empty bitterness of loss.

I found solace in routine, in the things I can count on—in the way tomatoes, when simmered in olive oil long enough, soften and shimmer, their flavor deepening, in the sounds of a child spinning around me or a fat cat thumping down the stairs, in the way numbers nestle within parentheses which clarify their purpose within lines of code, in patterns and repetitions.

Turning off the television to protect my child from its onslaught, I lost myself in philosophy lessons taught by a professor in a purple linen shirt, behind him a riotous spring-green flowering. From my screen he smiled at me, leaning forward with intellectual nonchalance, unaware of the chaos which now reigns outside the frame of his previously recorded video lecture. The professor spoke of the risky importance of self-deception, of internal spin-doctors who manipulate our minds to convince us that all will be alright in order to give us the strength to move on, of how we edit our own narrative to make it more palatable not only to others but to ourselves.

Consciously or unconsciously, we craft a story of self which, if done properly, can smooth out the rough edges of the past and grant us purchase to escape it. Which, if curated with love and good will might lead us to a better future, to happiness, to fulfillment, to a live well-lived.

False memories can also be created, suggested to us, by others. They insert their tellings into our narratives until we believe them as fact, dancing arm in arm with our imaginations and conjuring up within them detailed recollections of things that never really happened.

How can a child become a monster for no apparent reason? How do I explain the boy in the boat and what he did—to myself, let alone to a child?

A beautiful, innocent child with a Muslim surname in two days time will curl up next to her friend of Hindu surname on the bus. Usually they laugh, or play Temple-Run, or sing songs. What will happen this time? What will this bus-friend say about the moment when she thought, perhaps, that her mother was gone, lost forever? Her beloved mother, a bit too tired to run as fast as she might have, instead lagged a block or so away from the blast, in that instant cementing her fate as one of the lucky ones, so very lucky, blessed.

How do I reconcile the photos of the boys on my screen and embedded in my heart, the boy named Martin who was not so fortunate, or of the other boy, the boy, yes. This boy, named Dzhokhar, stares out from the screen, his curls and innocent face recalling that of another boy of the same age, also the son of an immigrant and whose name reflects that, one who plays soccer and writes random things on his facebook and jokes with his friends. All children are angels when born.

How can we explain the narrative of this angel, become now a hunted animal, blood seeping rhythmically from his veins joining that of those who needlessly lost their lives… and to what end? How can we explain the boy in the boat?


4 thoughts on “the boy in the boat

  1. Radicalisation is something that needs to be explained, because there is too much emphasis on the suffering, the anxiety, the fear portrayed through the media, bringing every minute detail of these events into the living rooms of people far away from them, but very little about how someone can become caught up in either radicalisation or the impulsive behaviour that leads them to destroy themself or others and how rare that is.

    I feel for the victims and their families, but equally for the nation and the global community who are put through an unnecessary and prolonged suffering on account of the media overexposure. These events are now seismic and shake the entire nation if not more.

    1. 24/7 media coverage is like a drug, and I too found myself drawn into it (mitigated, thankfully, by the fact that I would switch it off when my youngest was around to spare her the saturation of terror and its images).

      I absolutely agree that we need to examine how this could happen, how the narrative of radicalization can poison those susceptible to it, particularly those second-generation immigrants who straddle two worlds yet often feel part of none. Unfortunately when something like this happens the schism only widens.

      Far greater than we like to admit is the influence of what we put into our heads (not just our bellies)… what we read, what we watch, who we speak with. All of these things can dramatically alter who we are.

  2. We’re experiencing some of the same responses, friend. This is a brave piece; thank you for writing it. Love the image of your solace-through-tomatoes; it’s a cup of tea here.Sending best wishes and hugs…

    1. We all just sat down and watched “Samsara,” a film without words, just music and images (such images!) which reminds us how small and fragile we all are, how capable of such ineffable beauty and such darkness, too, and how in the end we are all one.

      You are surrounded (when not hunkering down with your manuscript, I’m sure) by the magnificence of nature which I imagine helps put everything in perspective. And then, there’s tea. 🙂

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