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Death and laughter at the Boston bombing

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On April 15, twin bombs exploded in the spectator areas near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, one of whom was an eight-year-old boy. The blasts injured more than 100 others as well, many of whom were hurt severely. In the days that followed, I have seen a remarkable outpouring of support for the bombing victims, for the city of Boston, for the running community, and for the many heroes who charged in through the smoke to save lives, heedless of any other dangers that might have been around them.

This column is not about all of that. I wish it was.

As you might imagine, social media channels lit up immediately after the bombings, and it was not even 90 minutes later that I saw the first jokes cracked about it on Facebook (“I guess marathons are bad for your health, huh?”). I saw other comments shared where folks bragged about how many people had defriended them over callous things they said about the bombings, as if such a mass alienation was something to be proud of (“I lost 138 friends over something I just said. I still got it!”). I also saw commentary that hand-waved away criticism that those offended by such wisecracking were simply being too sensitive about it.

This, in turn, prompted an expletive-laced rant from yours truly on the subject. For me, these bombings were personal. I have friends and family who live in Boston within short walking distance of the bomb site. One person I know stood directly in front of the second bomb a mere 15 minutes before it detonated. My whole family runs. My wife is a marathoner. She and my daughter also run half-marathons, and my son and I are always there to cheer them on. Had the diseased mind that struck the Boston Marathon hit, say, the Rock & Roll Half-Marathon in D.C. earlier this year, it very well could have been my son and/or myself blown to bits.

So for me, knowing that there were people getting some cheap laughs at the notion of innocent people with shredded stumps where their legs had been, of dead people with bodies filled with ball bearings and nails, and of a sidewalk literally painted in human blood, well, my reaction was an intense one.

We all deal with horror in our own way. Some folks use nervous humor to laugh so they might not cry. Fair enough. I just wish they would do it where the rest of us can’t hear them.

Some people, however, see the world as some big, cruel joke. They say whatever they want to whomever they want whenever they want because it’s their right and they enjoy getting a rise out of people. So soon after an event like the Boston bombing, that doesn’t take any skill, insight or wit…just a sense of casual cruelty.

To that, I can only react with an anger underscored by a deep sadness that ours is a world where such disregard for basic decency has become so commonplace (or at least so much more visible, thanks to the Internet). When I hear of how hard it is to sell life insurance these days, I begin to wonder if it’s really such a surprise. In a world where people find entertainment in the suffering of others, it figures that selling a product based on love for others has somehow become a hard sell. But it doesn’t have to be. The thing about events like Boston is that it brings out far more good in people than bad. We’re seeing it already. And maybe, just maybe, the legacy of this horrible crime will be that people will learn how to better love each other than to delight in their pain. One can hope.


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