Never again? Think again.
Physically untouched by all these – yes – but changed nonetheless. Ostensibly, I survived The Troubles, but it was only because I was lucky enough not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The images are indelible and iconic: Father Daly waving a blood-stained white handkerchief on the streets of Derry; aging veterans of the World Wars, their medals gleaming in Enniskillen; the carnage on Market Street in the heart of Omagh.
When I heard about Boston, I thought immediately of Omagh, when the Real IRA loaded a non-descript car with 500 pounds of explosives, parked it in the middle of the little market town, and detonated it when and where it would do most harm. In one murderous moment, glass, masonry and metal ripped through the crowd of shoppers, mostly women and children, the sheer force killing 21 people immediately. One of them was a woman, pregnant with twins. Some of their bodies were never found. Hundreds were injured.
I will never forget the Omagh bombing. It was on a Saturday when mothers were shopping for back-to-school supplies and uniforms. Those responsible called in a warning, and with unimaginable cruelty and callousness led the police to divert the crowd not to safety but to where they would be the most vulnerable. It happened during my daughter’s first trip to Ireland. Not quite eight months old, she was the surprise for my mother’s 60th birthday party. I remember that night, holding her tight as I watched the news in my parent’s house, the accounts from witnesses forever changed and devastated by the blood that flowed in the gutters and the bits and pieces of people lying on the street.
How could Omagh happen after Enniskillen, where over twenty-five years ago at 10.43AM on Remembrance Sunday, the IRA detonated a bomb without warning, killing eleven ordinary people and injuring sixty.
How could Boston happen?
And what can we do? Like Newtown and Omagh, New York and Enniskillen, we will find, long before the answers, the highest expressions of humanity and kindess within the hearts of ordinary people who will emerge as heroes. Mr. Rogers calls them “the helpers.”
While we struggle to find the words to explain the inexplicable – again – we can remind our children – and ourselves – of the helpers and their humanity that unfailingly shines through the darkest days:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.