One of the first things they tell you in Acting 101 is this: Never judge a role.

Meaning: no realistically written character ever does anything simply because he is “evil.”

Oh, sure, you and I may decide a character’s behavior was horrible, awful, or morally depraved. But to the character? The behavior is always justified, always rational, always makes perfect sense.


My connection with Boston runs deep. I attempted an education there. I lived “on the banks of the River Charles.” My nephew skateboards its streets. For a time, all my siblings lived in Beantown; my sister in an apartment near the marathon’s finish line.

Imagine: Walking into a big box store to purchase a pressure cooker. Assembling a circuit board of timing electronics on your coffee table. Collecting bags of headless nails.

That’s a lot of time to think about what you are doing.

These actions made perfect sense to someone.

A boyhood friend routinely runs the marathon. I flipped to his Facebook page immediately. He had been kind enough to post a status that he had crossed the finish line well before the bombing (no surprise, he’s quite the athlete) and that both he and his wife (who also ran) were safe. Fifteen percent of his friends had already “liked” the status.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one checking in.

Imagine: Gingerly packing the shrapnel-filled pressure cooker into a book bag and hoisting the heavy device onto your back. Walking through the crowds knowing that the bomb on your back is a finicky device and will blow a hole in your spine and send nails into your skull should it go off prematurely. Recognizing that the police are performing regular sweeps of the spectators’ area you are entering.

That’s a lot of time to think about what you are doing.

These actions made perfect sense to someone.

I began contacting the many people I know in the metro Boston area. One long-time friend wasn’t affected directly but told me that his son’s family were neighbors to Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died in the bombing. And that the next time his 5-year-old grandson would be playing with Jane, Martin’s 6-year-old sister, she will be missing a leg.

If history is a guide, it’s unlikely that the bombing of the Boston Marathon will create support for whatever cause the perpetrators were attempting to promote. Studies have repeatedly shown, for example, that wartime aerial bombings – like those of the US in Vietnam – only strengthen the resolve of humans, not cripple it. Despite his intentions, Timothy McVeigh inspired no mass movement against the government.

It’s upsetting to think of Martin Richard. Of his sister, an amputee at age 6. Of the others who died or were grievously maimed that day. Upsetting to think how a 5-year-old child will have to absorb the enormity of this event and its effects on his friend. Upsetting to think of headless nails, pipe bombs, TNT, C-4, IEDs, hand grenades, assault weapons, mortars, mustard gas, nuclear bombs, weaponized anthrax, ricin, and drones.

But mostly it’s upsetting to think we’ve constructed a world where this particular act of political violence – and a whole bunch of similar ones, from groups both large and small – makes perfect sense to someone.

Addendum (April 19, 2013):
To the media, he was an “MIT Officer” who was killed in the line of duty but to people I know at MIT, he was Officer Sean Collier, their 26-year-old beat cop who had been with Campus Patrol for just over a year. The shockwaves continue.


Originally published April 18, 2013 in Bitter Lemons.