Ordinary Acts of Bravery: Divergent & A Tragedy Laden Week Here

I know the statistics. Violence happens every day in the United States. 31,000 people a year die from guns (about half of those are suicides). Over 200,000 people experience sexual assault every year. I understand these are the facts. I understand that part of what is terrible about the Boston Marathon bombings are that they occurred where we least expected them: in a "safe" place, in a "safe" neighborhood, in a "good neighborhood" and I understand the inherently racist implications of those statements and those beliefs.

These facts only add to the horrible tragedy in Boston. They do not take away from it. On Monday, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon at the 4:09 mark (when many runners come in). Three people were killed and over 140 were injured (from minor burns and bruises, to MANY limb amputations.) The response was extraordinary by first responders and bystanders who raced to aid the victims. They should be commended for their courage and bravery in the face of something that doesn't happen here. We do not typically find ourselves faced with mass casualties from an IED in a crowded area. It was heartening to see the bravery and courage and resilience shown there.

Then the West, Texas fertilizer plant exploded, killing at least 5 people, leveling blocks, and leaving hundreds injured. This wasn't an act of terror, but it was a tragedy and a horrible event that will forever change a community.

That wasn't all. There were bomb threats around the country. They found ricin laced letters sent to President Obama and other officials. There was a stabbing spree in Texas.

And then last night, two people, now identified as the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, shot and killed an MIT campus police officer, carjacked a guy, shot another transit officer, caused a region wide lockdown and manhunt. The shootout with police was violent and took place in residential neighborhoods. The suspects used explosives and automatic weapons. One of them was apprehended but died of his injuries at some point (unclear). One remains at large and there is currently at the time of this blog a massive manhunt for him. Boston and multiple towns are on lockdown. People have been asked to "shelter in place". There are eerie photos of Boston completely empty in the morning. Someone pointed out on Twitter that the Marathon bombing victims, the suspect who died, and the MIT campus police officer who died were all under thirty years of age. The youngest was an 8yr old boy at the Marathon.

This has been a violent, sad week. Yesterday was #RockTheDrop and I dropped off books at Covenant House in Philadelphia, a homeless shelter for teens and teens in crisis. It was a momentary blip of happiness in an otherwise chaotic and emotionally draining week. Last night, I reread Divergent by Veronica Roth.

I was struck by how much I took away this read (it's probably my sixth or seventh read). I wanted to share some quotes with you.

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren't all that different.” --Four, Divergent by Veronica Roth

Go back and read the stories about everyone who ran to help the victims, both in Boston and in West. Read those, and remember that there are more good people in the world than bad. Remember that two people detonated bombs, but hundreds raced to those people's aid. Remember that there were 19 hijackers on September 11th, but literally thousands of first responders ran, without a second thought, to save lives. Want to see selflessness and bravery action? Here's a Buzzfeed list.

“A brave man acknowledges the strength of others.”

After September 11th, we found a lot of chinks in our armor in terms of first responders and jurisdiction and that sort of thing. As a result, there were major overhauls in how local, state, and federal agencies worked together in a crisis. Last night, we watched a manhunt start in Boston, then Cambridge, then Watertown. Now CT and NH police are involved and the FBI's there. At least at this point, the communication has been fluid and solid. Where one team is stronger, they take the lead. Where another team is stronger, they lead. From an outsider perspective, this is communication and rapid response done right.

“Sometimes, the best way to help someone is just to be near them.”

I wish our country was like this all the time. I wish we didn't always take beautiful things for granted and I wish we always reminded ourselves of the beautiful and good things people do every day. We don't, and that's human nature, but cling to it for as long as you can. We're only as strong as the community we build. Building community takes work. It means heartache and frustration and compromise and long hours learning to be with people, even if it's hard and you don't like them. The marathon running community is positive proof though that community matters.

“Fear doesn't shut you down; it wakes you up."

After September 11th, I had nightmares. I know I'm not alone in this. I was 14. I looked out the window at school and saw black windowless planes flying at my high school. I thought frequently about what would happen if we were attacked. Would I be a hero? Would I run? We all think about these things. I like to think that if I were in Boston, I would have gone to help victims. But ultimately, what helps us turn fear into action is training. I'm going to renew my first aid and CPR certification this summer. If something happens, I want to know what to do. I want fear to wake me up.

“Learning how to think in the midst of fear is a lesson that everyone needs to learn.”

You don't need to know first aid or CPR. You don't need to be paranoid and know entries and exits for buildings. But this is something we can all work on. Learning to work through fear. It's not a gift. It's something we're all going to have to work on, as individuals, and as a country, as a huge community. We tend to jump to conclusions. It took zero seconds for someone to jump the nearest Middle Eastern looking guy near the bombings and minutes for him to be reported as a suspect and person of interest. He wasn't. He was a scared student. We all need to as a country remember to think through things, especially when we're being blatantly racist and phobic (any phobic).

“We've all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don't want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest." He clears his throat. "I continually struggle with kindness.”

This seems self explanatory. I struggle with kindness too.

“It isn’t right to wish pain on other people just because they hurt me first.”

Violence begets violence. Wishing violence on the suspects doesn't change anything and it doesn't make it happen. It only continues to lower the threshold for acceptable violence in this country and we're already violent. Violent words are violence. Breathe. Justice will be served, one way or another.

And above all,

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

As Tris discovers in the book, the power in being Divergent and not adhering strictly to any one faction's doctrine, is that all of the doctrines have words of wisdom. This line, from the Dauntless faction doctrine, is powerful. Ordinary acts of bravery. This is more than leaping into action in crisis. This is about the aftermath. This is about refusing to fall into the groupthink hivemind. This is about ensuring that your statements in the aftermath do not perpetuate damaging and dangerous rumors. This is about holding people accountable for the things they say in the wake of tragedy, be they homophobic, racist, Islamophobic, or plain cruel. This is about recognizing that everyone processes tragedy differently: some can't talk about it, some only want to talk about it. There is no right way and there is no wrong way. There is only the kind and respectful way. This is about understanding that your world will be different. Not worse, not bad, not better. Just different. Ordinary acts of bravery are every day acts of courage.


This is why we read. We read, as CS Lewis think, to know we are not alone. We read to learn. We read to better understand our world.  We read because we are afraid, because we are lonely, because we are desperate. We read because we need to know how to cope with the world. We read because our world doesn't make sense. Our world is more nonsensical than stories with magic and unicorns and dragons. So we turn to books, to fiction, to give us to the tools. We read for escapism. We read to know that this too will pass. 

I want to believe that next week, we won't be back to the normal state of partisan affairs and angry neighbors. But we probably will. I hope that we can learn something from the books we read and the world we live in. I hope that we'll all aim for ordinary acts of bravery, and remember that selflessness and bravery are very alike. I hope that we learn to think through our fears instead of jumping to the first conclusion. I hope we remember that there are more good people than bad people.

I hope we remember that for a short time, we were all united in the face of violence, not against two troubled boys in Watertown. "Remember who the enemy is," Haymitch told Katniss in Catching Fire. While the boys committed acts of violence, they are not the enemy. Chechens are not the enemy. Muslims are not the enemy. Violence and hatred are the enemy. Remember that.

I love every one of you.