April 21, 2013 – First Parish of Watertown
Call to worship (a compilation):
Come into this circle of love and justice
It is good to be together. It is good to feel held in this community as we come out of our houses, our apartments, and join together.
I know for many of you, this may be the first time in days that you have left your home, venturing out to be in community with others and to begin to heal. After days of police activity and newscasts, and helicopters overhead, you have come here. After unanswered questions from children and others, about how and why, you have come here to begin again in community with one another.
It is good to be together.
It has been a tumultuous and eventful week, we know this too well. This community is different now than it was a week ago. We have been challenged and pushed to our limits. We are tired and fatigued, not only in our bodies, but also in our hearts and minds. It has been a test of endurance and resilience, and the power of community.
And it began at the Marathon, an event defined by these exact things: endurance, resiliency, and dedication. Hundreds of thousands gathered along each mile of the journey, to hold out water and to cheer; to provide medical care and treatment, and to celebrate. It is an event defined by the power of community to overlook international disagreements, and embrace difference in the spirit of healthy competition and personal achievement.
But this year was different, because it ended in tragedy. It ended with a loss of life, with injury, and with fear. As the tragic events unfolded, we witnessed the ability of the human spirit to overcome pain and suffering in order to care for others. Hundreds of first responders and medical personnel, and spectators and runners alike, sprung into action to care for those injured.
In the hours that followed, doctors, nurses, medics, and others worked tirelessly to care for those who had been injured.
We give thanks for these people today. We remember the hours of compassion and care in the times when these people needed it most. We hope for their continued strength in the time to come, as they care for all those injured.
We remember Martin Richard, Khrystle Campbell, Sean Collier, and Lu Lingzi whose lives ended too early; and we hold in our hearts all those who continue to heal in hospitals nearby. We pray for their families. We know that the journey to recovery and healing is a long one, and one that tries the spirit and the soul. We hope that they will have strength and courage to continue to heal.
Today we hold our loved ones a bit closer, and see them with a new beauty, because we have been reminded, again, of the fragility of this life.
It is good to be together.
It has been a fear-filled week. For us, in this community, Monday was not the climax to this week’s events. Awaking early Friday to news of an active shootout, with rounds of bullets ringing out literally in our own backyard, we were again struck with fear. Our beloved community was lined with police cars and SWAT teams, and the skies filled with helicopters and the shining lights of cruisers.
A different marathon had begun.
Friday was a time of community-wide isolation, as we sheltered in place to allow for safe and secure search of areas. We waited, and we wondered, and we waited. Our homes were searched and some were forced to leave.
So many questions and so much uncertainty; so much worry.
Around the globe, millions sat glued to their televisions as the events played out here in Watertown. Susan and I sat staring at the televisions for the entire day from our hotel room in Mexico, feeling connected to you all in worry and in care – this is our community too.
The world watched and waited, separately – but in the spirit of community.
And now, some say it’s over. The suspect is in custody. The news stations have begun speaking about the upcoming trial and what will happen to this troubled young man who was so hotly pursued. The camera crews are moving on.
But we in Watertown are left with a sense that things are not over. The boot prints from police and SWAT teams are still fresh on these lawns. Our eyes still burn from hours of lost sleep from chopper noise and gunfire.
This feeling of violation still burns within us. This is our neighborhood. This is our home. We are not accustomed to police tape and camera crews, and we are not accustomed to this level of worry or fear.
There is still an element of the unknown here.
We are still in this race. There is still quite a bit of course ahead of us as we come together to heal from this tragedy. We need one another.
It is good to be together. It is healing to be together.
There is a tactic used by long distance athletes, including marathon runners. It reminds me of the need for community. It’s called drafting. During a long race, it is advisable to position oneself within the airstream of another runner, in order to cut down on wind resistance and preserve energy. This is especially helpful when going a long distance, like in a marathon.
It is an example of how we need one another. It is what we are doing today. There are times when it is especially rough; times when we feel overwhelmed with loss and struggle and the challenge seems to big. It is in these times that we must help one another lean into the wind, and keep going.
It will take time to heal from this. It will take time before we truly feel safe in these streets and before the anger and fear subside. It will take time for us to process the sadness of innocent lives lost and changed forever. It will take time for the rivers of justice and understanding to flow their course. In time, as we’ve heard echoed this morning in the 23rd psalm, our soul will be restored, and we shall be comforted. In that time, may we offer support and love to one another. May we continue to be lifted up in community with compassion, love, and understanding that the healing will come … in time.
It is good to be together.
“Twenty Years Ago Today” by Andrea Greenwood
(This is the meditation for the service on April 21, 2013 in the wake of the Marathon bombing, followed by the manhunt for the terrorists, and the subsequent violent ending in Watertown)
A little more than twenty years ago, there was a ceremony of installation here, during which I became the minister of this congregation. I remember a little bit about the sermon that day – it was about living a balanced life – but the only memory that has ever really stood out about the whole event was a promise I made, to walk through our days together. There was a reading that echoed this: “on my way to work, I think of you; through the streets of the city, I think of you; companions of my life; of the happy hours and the sadness of being alive…” Ever since, you have been my people. Even those who don’t know me, or know me only as the minister’s wife. I walk with you, and I carry you in my heart like a prayer.
There are many others who consider you their people as well. In the past two days, I have had calls and emails from so many colleagues and Unitarian Universalist friends, all sending you prayers and condolences, and love. Nearby, ministers all over Massachusetts; and in Maine and New Hampshire have been praying for us. Members who have moved away – to Pennsylvania and Oregon – they are with us, too. My colleagues in Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida and Georgia, and especially former parishioners from Atlanta, who were here at that service twenty years ago – they are still here, walking beside us, too. Yesterday the District Mark and I briefly belonged to in Great Britain had their annual meeting, and formally voted to send their heartfelt sympathy and concern. In Sheffield’s Upper Chapel, the time for sharing was dedicated to Watertown this morning.
So all these people are holding us up; holding up our values of peace; sharing our bewilderment; aching with us; wiping away tears.
I was away this week when the first incomprehensible tragedy struck, but I am rarely fully away. I still felt that I was with you. But on Friday it was hard to not be here. I was hoping that Nico and Liam, who would be able to see all this unfold outside their windows, might be away for vacation. I knew Jacqui and Paul were trapped a block away – Jacqui, who already lost a sister-in-law to terrorists. So I wanted to be sensible; to stay out of the way and let the officers work; to not bring my children in to this scene, but I also felt a need to be here, to walk through the same day you were living.
We pulled into town as soon as we heard we could. It was 6:25. Families were out, seeking release, walking small children and dogs, tasting freedom. And then, as we were unloading the car, I could hear gunshots, and the skies filled up with helicopters and I saw our friend’s house on tv. It has been hard not to weep, but I can’t exactly say why. Anxiety. Tension. The lack of any sense to this, or so many things in the world. The sure knowledge that so many people I love were under siege. The world is always under siege, but it is different when it is your home, your people.
One of the issues I have always had a hard time with is “Why?” I like to understand why things happen. I don’t really believe there are reasons, but I still want there to be. I often remember a day when the psychiatrist I see with my kids said to me. “It doesn’t matter why this happened; treatment is what matters.” Essentially, she was saying that it is a luxury to worry about they whys, and even though I still quibble a bit, I gained a new appreciation – a much more visceral one – for really dealing with things instead of just thinking, and worrying, and trying to understand.
We do want to know why this happened; why a seemingly nice kid who fit in and had friends became violent in such extraordinary ways. And there may be some things we can learn that help; that begin to address why our culture seems to continue to produce insanity. There may be some things we can learn that help us get Senators across the land to care deeply about more than elections and money. But mostly, there are no answers to the whys, and most especially not why here, why Watertown, why a neighborhood where the Erickson’s live, and Lani Gerson, the Days, Sue and Channing –where your friends live, and mine. It was bad luck, random geography. There is no reason that will make it make sense. Looking for one can make us believe that we have a control that we really don’t.
And this is why we have to gather – to sing, to fall into each other’s arms, to cry, and tell our stories; to avoid despair or finding false causes. Because it doesn’t make sense. None of it does. But it happened, and we are tasked with incorporating this new reality into ourselves. All around us, and above us and right in front of us, one or two people were bent on destruction, and many thousands of people were determined to help; to stop them, to save everyone; to restore us. There were officers EVERYWHERE who were not thinking about why, but were just making sure they took care of it, and us. We gather here to remember that – not reflexively, but literally. We sit with the scary memories; the disorientation, the noises and anxiety, and share it until it recedes a bit, and we can claim what lies underneath – our gratitude at being safe, and alive; that our friends are also safe; our amazement that so many people worked to make this so; our realization that we are stronger and more resilient than we wished to know, and that the world is not as we wish it to be. But it is our world, and it is in our hands, and in the hands of people who are holding us up, even when we are unaware. These are God’s hands.
Let us turn to the world, the streets of our city, the worn tapestries of our every day lives, and love it anew.
Let us walk together.