A car trip with one of my boys provides closeness and perspective—over the Boston Marathon Bombing.
The best place to talk to a boy is in a car, whether it’s just to keep in contact, get an update on school, deliver messages, or try to sort out things like the Boston Marathon bombing.
I’ve discovered the effectiveness of the vehicle over hundreds of hours taking both of my boys to hockey games and practices, which is one of hockey’s great attributes. Because of equipment and often-remote arenas, kids need rides. For the last few years, most of that car time has been with my younger son, Sean, who has played on a rep—or as they say in the U.S.—travel team.
Win or lose, or he’s listening to his iPod as the music leaks from his ear buds, the time in the car with him is special to me. But time in the car is perfect when we really talk, or at least I want to.
During our car trips, he’s trapped in a small space with me, and he doesn’t have to look at me and I’m looking down the road. I think that’s the secret to the deal, certainly for him. Sitting elbow to elbow also creates closeness that’s hard for me to arrange when we’re at home.
On the afternoon of April 15, I picked him up from the gym for the ride home for dinner. “You hear about Boston?” he said, easing his lanky 6-foot-1 frame into the car.
Usually, he changes the radio station from my CBC talk radio (like PBS, but Canadian), but he left it there. We sat mostly mute listening to the reporters and anchors describing the horror.
At home, I turned on CBC TV News and we listened and watched, again mostly in silence. After about 15 minutes, I said: “I’m glad you are safe and home.” I put my hand on his left shoulder for a moment. “Yeah,” said Sean, who is 17.
The next morning, Sean told his mother that he couldn’t sleep and he wanted to sleep in a bit. I had a very busy day lined up, but I instinctively volunteered to drive him to school.
On the drive in later that morning, we sat in silence for few minutes listening to CBC. Sean asked how many people were killed. I said three, including an eight-year-old boy, and that about 140 were injured.
I said that a lot of injured lost legs or arms, and that the bombs were designed with things like zippers and ball bearings to inflict maximum damage.
“Why would somebody do that?” he asks, perhaps rhetorically, but I go for it.
I turn off the radio. “It’s impossible to know. These kinds of things have always happened.”
Then, I thought that I might know. “Some people are full of hate. Some people are mentally ill and hurt people, but they don’t do things like this.
“Imagine that you were a Palestinian teenager in Gaza. You live in a refugee camp. You’ve never had a house, running water or electricity. You live in a tent with a dirt floor.
“Let’s say your grandfather was killed in a battle with Israeli soldiers, and your father was arrested and never came home. Your uncles say he was tortured and killed. What do you think you’d feel for the Israelis?” I asked Sean.
“And let’s say you lived in Israel, and a bomb from Gaza killed your aunt and your cousins, and that an uncle was beaten in an attack so badly he could never use his hands again. How would you feel for Palestinians?
“This is the history of conflict in the world. We’ve seen it in Ireland, Africa, Bosnia. It’s sad but it happens. But it can stop. The conflict in Northern Ireland is mostly over, and they end in other places too.
“Usually it takes a special person who can motivate a group of people. Someone who can rise above the hate and see the bigger picture. Often it takes someone like”—at this stage, I am conscious that my eyes are watering and my voice is wavering—“Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.”
I turn the car into the driveway of his school, I look straight forward, and blunder on: “This is what gives me hope,” I say, croaking out “hope” as I tip right into—I don’t know—sadness or grief mixed with, well, hope.
A moment later, the car arrives at the school front door. I don’t look at him with my red eyes, although I later thought I should have. “Bye, Sean. Have a great day.”
“Thanks, Dad. Bye.”
The car door closes. Before shifting into gear, I sit there and become aware that I’m laughing and crying at the same time. “Jeez, there I go bawling again.”
I’m more than OK with it. I think our car chat may have helped him make sense of yet another surreal tragedy, and that when he’s older and reflects on the Boston Marathon bombing—one of those you-know-where-you-were-when events—he might think about his dad’s explanation, tears and hope for the future. His future.
Photo: Rebecca_Hildreth /flickr