Arina, On Boston

by Nicole Plyler Fisk

Arina on the rocks

Only four short months ago, I recorded the experience of telling my 8-year-old daughter about the Sandy Hook shooting, here. And here I am again, telling her about the Boston bombings.

The discussion was similar to the Newtown one, except for one thing. Normally, Arina is full of ideas. But, today, she shook her head after reading some of the coverage over my shoulder, sighed and said, “I don’t even know, Mom.”

I didn’t tell her that we’re talking about this on the day that, six years ago, 32 people died in the Virginia Tech shooting. I don’t know why. I’m brutally honest with her most of the time, but talking about Virginia Tech after Sandy Hook and after the bombings just makes the world sound so, so dark.

But I did tell her that we’re talking about this on the day that, fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I read it again, with Arina reading it over my shoulder.

I shared with her a couple of my favorite quotes, and she repeated them back to me in Arina-speak:

(1) MLK Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Arina: “So, we’re all in this together?”

Me: “Right. So, when bad things happen — like bombings and school shootings and people not being treated fairly — it’s an injustice that affects us all. So, it’s our job to think about how to make the world kinder, a more inclusive and less violent place.”

(2) MLK Jr: Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

Arina: “So, we need to be annoying? Like flies?”

Me: “Right. But like nonviolent flies. So, no biting.”

Arina nodded. She has heard our firebrand of a pastor tell us to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight, so she seems to understand the idea of being persistent (even annoyingly so) while searching for light or goodness in dark, dark places.

Dr. Ray tells us to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight all of the time, but Arina and I talked about how it’s especially important when things seem so bad.

“So, what are you going to do?” I asked her.

Arina: “Well . . . I’m really glad I saved that polar bear.” [She donated to a “save the polar bears” fundraiser recently and has pinned a photo of her “adopted” polar bear to a board in her room.] I agreed that saving polar bears makes the world a kinder place.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked me.

I sniffed. “Well, I was going to call Senator Graham today,” I explained, “because it’s supposed to be National Call Day for new gun legislation” [in the form of expanded background checks for gun show and Internet purchases]. But President Obama canceled it.”

Then and there: I decided to call anyway, since it seemed to be a nonviolent gadfly thing to do, and I was happy to see the Brady Campaign still urging people to do so — even though, as my friend Natalie pointed out, the wording of their email could possibly be interpreted as exploiting the Boston tragedy.

For me, though: I wanted to make it clear to my daughter and to my representative that an America plagued by acts of violence is one that I want to change. Calling for expanded background checks on gun purchases had nothing to do with the Boston bombings, and everything to do with the Boston bombings.

Nothing: because regulating materials for bombs is a totally different beast than regulating firearms, clearly. I remember talks of regulating ammonium nitrate fertilizer after the Oklahoma City bombing, but as Natalie points out: materials for bombs are, essentially, available for purchase at any local hardware store. No one is suggesting that expanded background checks on firearms would have made a difference in the Boston bombings.

Everything: Grieving and processing the violence in Boston feels too similar, too familiar to other recent moments of terror. There comes a point, I think, when the tragedies snowball to such an extent that every call attempting to stem the tide of gun violence; or rape culture; or bombings; or bullying becomes an indistinguishable refrain of: I do not approve; I do not condone; I kick for change.

Saving polar bears; or acknowledging that gun ownership is a grave responsibility; or running past the finish line in the Boston Marathon to donate blood: all are attempts to make little cracks in a darkness that seems both overwhelming and penetrable at the very same time.