May 6, 2014


My husband, son, and I were watching my daughter’s swimming lesson the afternoon of April 15, 2013.

My friend, Keely Tary, a colleague at Southern Adventist University, approached me. “I just saw something about a bombing at the Boston Marathon.”

Keely knew a large part of my heart was still in Boston. We had recently left our home of 10 years to answer the call to Southern.

This information about a bomb, even if partially true, struck me dumb. Something terrible had happened, and would likely have affected hundreds of people. “Marathon Monday” is a special holiday in Boston. Families and college students gather along Commonwealth Avenue for a day of frivolity. Offices close, and much of the city takes to the streets to cheer on the runners.

I noted that it was about 4:00 p.m. when I heard the news. This was the hour that the wave of qualifying runners would have completed the race, and the time that runners who were raising money for charities would begin reaching the finish line.

My husband and I took turns watching the news into the evening. The bloodshed was massive, and the numbers of injured were unfathomable. Reports were slow to confirm the names of victims. Before I went to sleep that night, I remember my husband saying that one of the fatalities was a young person from the Ashmont area of Dorchester, our old neighborhood.

I slept violently that night; surreal images of the pandemonium in our beloved city flashed through my mind. The next morning I awoke to the news I feared most.

This Makes It Personal

The summer of 2008 I was a first-time mother of a very active 6-month-old daughter. After a long winter I was eager to get involved in my neighborhood, and desperate to make friends with local parents.

I noticed a bulletin about an Ashmont-Adams neighbor walk in the newspaper for which I freelanced. The contact name for the walk was Denise Richard. With my daughter in a stroller we set out one morning on this neighbor walk, but we found no congregation of neighbors.

I knocked on the door of the house whose address was listed in the notice. Three darling children, half dressed, came to the door. Denise was laughing, everything so helter-skelter, and she put me at ease.

We walked to a nearby park. Denise’s son, Martin, rode his bike ahead. She kept yelling, “Maaarrrtin! Stay with your brother!”

No other neighbors joined us that day, so I enjoyed Denise’s kindness all to myself. She told me about her journey from being a mother who used to work outside the home to being a full-time at-home one. She told me about the best playgrounds and beaches in the area, and she encouraged me to plug into some other organizations that did work that interested me. She pointed out the homes of people who were pillars of the community, and she shared with me plans that she and her husband were involved with in Dorchester’s Main Street revitalization.

Just a short walk to a playground on a warm, sunny summer morning and some good conversation had totally transformed my view of our neighborhood and being at home all day with a baby. In meeting Denise, I felt as though I had hit the neighborhood mom jackpot.

The gospel has become more palpable to me through the Richard family.

Afterward Denise and I were cordial whenever we saw one another. I loved watching her children grow, and the sight of her walking all three children up and down the hilly streets of our neighborhood to drop off her oldest son, Henry, at school always made me smile.

A Parent’s Worse Nightmare

On April 15 Denise underwent lifesaving surgery. Her daughter, Jane, who had just begun to learn Irish step dancing, as so many girls in Boston do, lost a leg in the bombings. Denise’s husband suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs. Their son, Henry, escaped physical injuries.

But Martin, sweet Martin, age 8, was killed by the blast.

I could barely teach the next day. I kept thinking about Denise. I kept scanning an imagined scenario in my head. In the calamity of the explosion, had Denise been separated from her children, even for a moment? How long until help had arrived? Had she been alone when she’d undergone surgery? The mother always saddled with children—some her biological children, some her neighbor’s children—I knew it would anguish her to be separated from her precious treasures.

I held my own children, ages 5 and 3, extra close for weeks after the tragedy in Boston. In their moments of disobedience or back talk I was instantly reminded of Denise, and my flaring temper would mellow.

Nearly a month after the marathon the Boston Globe published an article that shone a bright light on the horror and heroics of April 15, 2013. It hailed first responders who had sprung into action. It also offered details of the early hours following the explosion for the Richard family.

These details made an indelible imprint on me. As my former neighbor and dear friend Anna noted: “The image of Denise kneeling next to Martin will never leave me—nor should it.”

Indeed, the image of Denise, whose eyes were hit with shrapnel, kneeling next to her little Martin, whom I had watched ride his bicycle to the playground the day we met, will never leave me.

But Denise did have to leave Martin on that fateful night. Martin’s body was part of a crime scene. Police needed the body to remain at the scene. Boston police officers covered Martin’s body with tablecloths from nearby restaurants. Officers kept vigil over his body until it could be removed at 2:00 a.m. the next day. A memo issued by the Richard family noted, “Those officers will never know how comforting that was in our very darkest hour.”

I weep whenever I read about these dark hours for my former neighbors. I carry them in my mother’s heart, knowing not even a fraction of a fraction of the anguish they have endured.

I do trust, however, that we serve a God who knows this anguish intimately; for He too left His Son at the scene of the crime. He knows what it is for soldiers to stand guard around the tomb preserving His expired body.

In the case of Jesus Christ, however, soldiers were not guarding the tomb to show honor; they were a precautionary barrier to prospective grave thieves. Our heavenly Father felt all the searing pain of releasing His only begotten to this broken world, a world that did not recognize Him. Just as the terrorists who allegedly orchestrated the double bombings on Boylston Street in April couldn’t possibly have known the innocent face of little Martin that would be broadcast over every major network, his big brown eyes inescapable as he held up his self-illustrated poster: “No more hurting people. Peace.”

The gospel has become more palpable to me through the Richard family. Through their early kindness to me, small acts of goodness being great ministrations to the heart. And now, through their courage and their pain, I have come face to face with the most gruesome death that leads to the most glorious victory.

I trust God’s promise that He will be close to the brokenhearted, and that angels will draw near, like the Boston police officers who wouldn’t leave Martin’s side.

I don’t know that I will meet the Richards again this side of heaven, but I look forward to seeing them again, from glory to glory, where there will be no more hurting of people. Only eternal peace.