I woke up this morning to a robocall from my son's middle school here in Cambridge, assuring me that our "scholars" would have support for processing this past week's events. And as I dropped him off at the front door of the now always-locked building, I cried at the sight of anxious kids, pressing to get inside. First the Sandy Hook massacre and now this. I hesitated to leave as I waited for them to get inside, and the gravity of this day sunk in once again. This past week was supposed to be a holiday break for our kids, starting with Patriots' Day on Monday and stretching into a gentle easing into spring. Today is their first day back at school.
This past week has been harrowing for all, but I am especially concerned for our children and how this will shape their sense of the world. We are all connected to the bombing here, and not just because we all know someone who was directly affected by the bombings on Monday. Not just because we were kept up by the wail of sirens and distant pop-pop outside our windows on Thursday night, not because we had the bizarre collective experience on Friday of our city being shut down and us being shut in. The strange and difficult thing is that we all are also connected to the bombers. They are, or were, part of our community.
If you live in Cambridge and are in public school, you will end up in the singular, consolidated Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. It's a huge social experiment, born of the ideology that mixing the privileged and poor, multi-generational American and brand new immigrant is a good and healthy thing for not only our kids, but our society. It is supposed to be the great equalizer, giving children like the Tsarnaev brothers the same shot at the American Dream as everyone else. My daughter graduated from CRLS along with a few hundred other kids in 2011, and was therefore in school with the younger bombing suspect. Her best friend, currently a senior at CRLS, lives down the street from Dzokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown and knows him well. There are no degrees of separation here. He was one of our own. And this is what hurts, and scares us, the most.
My daughter, posting on Facebook from her college dorm room in Colorado said,
Rindge and Latin is such a perfect sample of the population. Its the only high school in Cambridge and has a couple thousand students from all walks of life. A certain percentage of them will go to college, a certain percentage will drop out, a certain percentage will be a specific religion, so on and so forth. A certain amount will also die, and a fraction of those deaths will be from shootings. We had that happen last year. And again, with a sampling of people so diverse and in great enough numbers, I'm not surprised to say that one out of the school became a terrorist.
Her point of view as a 19-year-old, the same age as the bombing suspect, who went to the same school and shared some of the same friends, is chilling. Have we really gotten to a place in our culture, our society, where extreme violence is so normalized as to invoke blase acceptance of terrorists as part of the mix? Perhaps this is what to expect from the post 9/11 generation. But it brings into question all that we do as parents to protect our children, to give them a sense of what to expect from their friends and from society, what is safe and real and meaningful, and what is not.
From all accounts, Dzokhar seemed to be a "normal" and well-adjusted kid. This doe-eyed stoner doesn't fit the outsider-loner profile of the growing litany of school shooters, or the markings of an extremist of any stripe. We have a pressing need to understand what turned this kid into a killer, it is now key to our peace.
My son usually walks or rides his bike to his school in North Cambridge, near the Watertown border. This morning he asked me to drive him over, and as I watched the visibly anxious children wait to be let inside the locked doors, I wondered how they could possibly process the new idea of a terrorist who lived down the road and went to school with their siblings and neighbors, a threat from within.