Even if they are not as brave as the first responders were in Boston, many parents know in their hearts that they would do anything to save their kids.
It’s a surreal conversation to have—to speculate about what you might do in a moment of crisis. Yet it’s comforting to imagine being calm in the face of chaos, certain at a time of calamitous uncertainty. Tonight at dinner my family talked about what we would have done had we been at Copley when the bombs exploded. My husband, who served for two years with the Peace Corps in Nepal and who holds a commitment to “doing good” and helping others that runs deeper than I’ve seen in most others, imagines himself tearing down barricades and rushing to help the injured. And I’m sure he would. And I’m horrified by this thought, because it runs counter to my every instinct. I know exactly what I would have done. I would have risked everything to protect the life of our child.
I described to my son how I would have thrown his body to the ground and covered it with mine. He laughed at the improbability of this, and I see his point. At 6’1” he towers 6 inches over me and weighs an easy 40 pounds more. It would be an awkward feat of physical force for me to wrestle him to the ground, but I tried to impress upon him my intention—I would have used my body to shield him from any danger. No question.
My son doesn’t understand this. He can’t believe that I would take such risks for him. He wonders why, if I won’t give him money to buy a pit bike or clean up his room for him, that I would be driven to make such an all-giving gesture in this circumstance. I understand that humans are biologically wired to act in ways that will ensure the propagation of our genes. Maybe I would be heroic in order improve my chances of having grandchildren one day, but I don’t think that’s the most compelling explanation. The truth is that I would do it because I can’t bear to imagine my life without my son.
We grieve for those killed and injured on Monday, but we particularly mourn the loss of Martin Richard, a child of bright promise. Our communal failure to physically and metaphorically shield children from the atrocities of Monday forces us to face the most unsettling truth we hold as adults—that we can’t always keep children, especially our own, safe. We couldn’t have done anything differently and we can’t hold ourselves to blame, but that no more lessens the pain than it rights the wrong.
Ultimately we never really know how we would respond in the face of such terrifying events. I do not consider myself to be a brave person and it’s hubristic for me to claim that I would act with such courage. I admire and am grateful for those men and women who ran into the path of danger to save the lives of strangers with a courage I cannot fathom. But I hope that our mettle will not have to be tested in this way again