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The Boston Tragedy: Making Sense of Nonsense

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How to be pertinent? We here at MIT have been locked down since late last evening. The sound of sirens has seldom not been heard. Students gather around their laptops listening to police scanners. We know what is going on.

One of our police officers was killed two blocks from here responding to a disturbance call. He was doing his job. He was 26 and grew up a few miles away. He knew lots of students, went camping with those in the Outing Club. Being a public safety officer was his calling.

For our students this is their 9/11. They were between seven and 11 when the Towers crumbled. Now here it happens again. Not as dramatic, but in some ways more realistic. It did not just happen and then we responded. It seems this is playing out over a longer period and the villains are just like us. They are students, our neighbors, they are our peers.

The site of the officer's death is just down the Infinite Corridor, through the Stata Building. We all go there every day or two. A mother called last night wanting to hear from her son: "He studies in the Stata Building." And he did, and he called her.

Across the river a mile away, there was another bomb found. Down Massachusetts Avenue the sidewalk on Boylston Street is still stained with the blood of those who died and those who were injured as they waited for family and friends to finish a race. Can we ever be safe again?

After Monday it was easier to respond. Impersonal horror can be thought about, compartmentalized. But then on Tuesday it got personal. One of our students knew the family of the youngest victim. He was his babysitter. Tears came easily -- for all of us.

Then we learned that the young woman from China was known by our students. She had gone on retreat with them. So we gathered on Wednesday and challenged one another to do what we do best: solve problems. That is the MIT way. We would design bionic limbs for children to grow with. We could make a better world for eight year old boys and girls from China where they can live full lives, where hatred is not an option. We can do that. Or so we think.

And then last night happened. It is not so easy to simply reflect when it is so close to home. It is not so easy to turn the issue into a design problem when you think of a young man called to be a public servant killed before he could get out of his car.

Christianity came into being on the occasion of great pain and suffering. A family lost an eldest son. A mother watched and wept. That is where we are now. Watching, waiting and weeping. I hear the sirens again. We are still locked down and it shows no sign of abating.

Steven Colbert helped us through the early days of the week, but now the anger comes unbidden. I got a call from the leader of the Muslim community worried about the hatred he feared might surface. It has not yet but it may. If it does then we are no better than those who have harmed us.

Today we know the fear Israeli students on their way to school know; what parents in Iraq know when they send their children out for groceries; the fear men in Afghanistan know when they leave home to get petrol. Around the world there are families who never know the kind of peace we take for granted. Now we have learned another name for fear, Chechnya. We see the world through new eyes.

At 4 p.m. I have a wedding rehearsal. Maybe that is the way to derive meaning from days like today. Look evil in the eye, affirm your love for one another and step forward. That takes a courage that can banish fear.

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