It’s hard to escape the grisly images that will forever define this year’s Boston Marathon and its week-long aftermath. For me—and I’m sure millions of others—the sights and sounds near the finish line on April 15, 2013 immediately evoked September 11, 2001. While there were far fewer casualties this time, the feelings of shock and violation are no less confounding.
How does one respond to these horrific acts?
Obviously, justice is a necessary function in civil society. But the creation of a safer, more peaceful world—in which such senseless tragedies are remnants of the past—calls for higher virtues.
It’s not easy to meet violence with compassion, hatred with kindness, or agony with hope. Yet the immediate response of countless heroes who assisted the injured—and the subsequent hospitality extended by hundreds who offered food, shelter, and other comfort to complete strangers—attests to our innate capacity for such nobility.
As I attempt to answer the proverbial question, “What can I do?” I find great solace and hope in our work at RMHC. Clarissa Pinkola Estes eloquently captures our mission in her “Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times.”
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once,” she writes, “but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.”
We’re drawn to the Ronald McDonald Houses—and each other—because our hearts open immediately and generously to the unfortunate circumstances of our guests. We welcome them with open arms, regardless of their race, creed, gender, financial means, or any other quality by which they might unfairly be judged as “different.” And we assist them as best we’re able—one soul to another, stretching out to mend that which is within reach.
These are the higher virtues that will someday transform the world—if we persevere.
Early on April 15—several hours before the bombings—I lost a wonderful friend and colleague. Unlike the Boston victims, Linda Morris (President and CEO of Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities) died peacefully, of complications from breast cancer, with family and friends by her side.
I believe that the most meaningful tribute—to Linda and to all the Boston victims—is simply to carry on. To celebrate our shared service. To extend continued goodwill. To appreciate those who inspire and share this noble cause. And to savor every living breath.
That’s how I intend to respond. It’s the only way I know how to build a better world.
Tom Soma, Executive Director