EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


April 13, 2014

Column: Connecting the pieces:Boston, Belfast and bombings

Like the debris in the aftermath of the Marathon bombing, my thoughts were scattered. Sifting through them, I realized many were tangential to what I sought — a way of making sense of what seems beyond the reach of reason.

Ideas began to coalesce. While perhaps not essential, this process seemed necessary. I needed to traverse this psychic terrain to gain perspective. In the end, a different perspective yielded, at least in my mind, something resembling insight into the elusive “why”. The need to try was compelling.

My thoughts, in the wake of the horror, drifted to personal connections. The “Six Degrees of Separation” phenomenon seems common in watershed moments of history. My daughter, who works for a nonprofit was offered tickets to the grandstand at the finish line. With a toddler careening about the home front, she declined the offer. I had a similar “what if” experience on 9/11, when a brother flew out of Logan 20 minutes before one of the hijacked planes.

I thought about another phenomenon that surrounds tragic events. My daughter safely ensconced at home with headphones on listening to music and a video monitor connecting her with her sleeping child experienced an “interlude of innocence.” She remained blissfully ignorant — unconnected to the world. I recall a similar experience on 9/11, when my attention to the outside world was hijacked by a staff meeting at the Cambridge jail. I was absorbed in issues that at the time seemed important. Having been wrenched from our brief moments of innocence, there was no going back.

The images from the Marathon resurrected images I had seen of the “Troubles,” the sectarian conflict that consumed Northern Ireland. There were over 3,600 deaths — many from bombings — in a 30-year period. Having just arrived in Belfast in 2005, I had yet to learn the areas to avoid when rioting erupted. I found myself facing a phalanx of riot police and men on rooftops hurling bricks as I ran in the Protestant enclave of East Belfast. I turned my St. Michael’s College T-shirt inside out — an option the Boston victims did not have.

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