Joanna Schroeder and her son reconcile their anger at the Boston bombing suspects with the morality they try to cultivate.
I didn’t want my 8 year-old to hear about the Boston bombing for the first time when he was at school. As a little kid, I remember being worried about my parents all the time. Any news that happened, I would instantly think of my parents and how they would be affected. Were they scared? Would they be sad? Were they crying? In my early-80s childhood, there wasn’t a whole ton of national tragedy the way there is now. I remember watching The Challenger blow up, live on TV, right in front of my entire school. Every teacher was silent, and tears ran down the faces of some of the younger ones.
I thought, “Where’s my mom?”
Some people thought that we shouldn’t tell our children about the Newtown massacre. Let them live in the innocence they deserve to grow up in. Take the risk that they may never hear about it. I respect that, and it worked out okay for most of them. But I wanted my son to see that I was okay before he heard someone else mention it. Some families let the TV run all day, what if one of his classmates came in and said “a whole class full of first graders got murdered!”? How would he know how to frame that without me showing him that I was okay, and reassuring him that he was safe?
And so I told him that a bad man had gone to a school and had hurt some people. I reassured him that his school is safe and that his teachers and principal and Big Mike the custodian and everyone else was there to keep him safe and happy. I also reassured him that the man who hurt the people was gone, and could never hurt anyone else. He said, “Okay, Mom,” and headed into school. And I let him, even though every bit of energy coursing through my limbs was buzzing to jump out and just grab him back, keep him home, never let him out of my sight again.
I did the same with Boston. My kids knew something was up. Because my boss and friend, Lisa, was at the marathon’s finish, and had actually been hit with part of the bomb (but is fine, thank God), I was on the phone with colleagues all day talking in vague terms about her condition and how to handle the tragedy from an editorial perspective.
And so I explained, “Some bad people exploded bombs and a bunch of people were hurt. But they are going to catch the bad people and they’ll go to jail.”
When we woke a few days later to learn that Suspect 1 had been killed, I updated my son on the way to school: One of the bad guys had tried to shoot police, so they had to shoot to protect themselves, and the bad man died. Now they are going to catch the other one and put him in jail.
My 8 year-old looked at me and, plain as day, said, “Why don’t they just shoot him, too?”
It’s a good question. I explained how even bad guys, if they aren’t trying to hurt people right then, deserve to not be murdered. Because the police officers’ job isn’t to kill people, but to keep people from being hurt—even bad people.
Then, once again, my son hopped out of the car and walked into school. It was hard to let him go in, and it had been every day since a little boy his same age named Martin Richard had been brutally murdered, but I did my job as a parent and I sent him out into the world with the confidence that Daddy and I were okay, and that his school is safe.
Last night, after the world cried with relief and satisfaction when Suspect 2 was apprehended, my husband said, “The compassionate thing to do for that kid right now is kill him. If our government doesn’t torture him, he will be tortured and killed in prison.”
Of course we need information from the suspect, we need to know if there were accomplices, if there are more explosives. We need to know if they were part of a larger network of terrorists, what their ideology is, or if they were just two troubled men who wanted to know what it felt like to kill people. Innocent people. A sweet little boy called Martin, a bright and positive young woman named Krystle Campbell, and Lu Lingzi—a woman with extraordinary potential and a bright future ahead of her. And of course, MIT police officer Sean A. Collier, who died tragically and honorably in the line of duty.
Don’t get me wrong, both my husband and I think that if we were alone in a room with Suspect 2, we would probably try to kill him. A man who (allegedly) purposefully puts a bomb down next to two small children, as photos have shown him doing, not to mention all of the others in the frame, is as disgusting as we can imagine anyone to be. He’s no different from the Newtown shooter who chose to enter a school and take the lives of so many perfect, happy children. Any theories as to why Supsect 2 may have turned into a murderer—the influence of his older brother, isolation, anything potentially based upon indoctrination by people who bastardize the peaceful religion of Islam—feel irrelevant when you think of the four lives lost.
And yet he deserves our compassion, because the moment we lose sight of our human compassion and empathy, we lose sight of who we are as “the good guys”. If I lose my empathy, what do I have left? Just my anger—which is significant enough on its own to overtake a person.
As much as I feel like Suspect 2 may deserve to die for what he did, I need to show my son that even when we are angry, even when we are hurt, we need to remain rooted in our humanity.
Lead photo: The beautiful faces of Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard and Lu Lingzi