He could be my son: the oval face; the close-set dark eyes; the curly black hair; tall and lanky. My son was born in 1993, same as the Boston Bomber suspect. As a mother of a swarthy young man, I'm always vigilant about the similarities in appearance of a terrorism suspect, so that when I see virulent Facebook posts that call for an eye for an eye from people in my hometown, my heart aches. An extra layer is always added to the horror of the initial incident.
Along with the gut-wrenching pictures -- of the precious eight-year-old Martin, ironically clutching his neatly drawn sign, "no more hurting people" (my son made a similar sign when he was that age); the beaming face of Krystle Campbell, who left her grieving family behind; Sean Collier, a young newly-sworn member of the MIT police force; or any of the other wounded still suffering in Boston area hospitals -- I can't help but stare at the picture of the 19-year-old alleged bomber's face. Who drops a bomb at a finish line -- like a parade route, the scene of euphoric celebration?
I sink at the descriptions: friendly, funny, intelligent. I would have fainted if they added, Yu-Gi-Oh champion (a description of my own son). We're not Muslim. Does it matter? He's a teen boy. I've never shared with my son that I worry every time he flies all over the West to compete in tournaments, I text him "I love you," and the thought relentlessly crosses my mind that he might be misperceived. As hard as I try to push the visual away, I picture scenarios of mistaken identity or a profiling. But that is just me. I wonder what it is like being him, growing up in the stolen innocence of a post 9/11 world.
On top of the trauma of the initial incident, mothers like me live with the fear of the backlash. I didn't think about any of this much until I gave birth to a beautiful brown boy 19 years ago. The first time he and I were ever alone in the hospital room, he was propped on a pillow, I marveled at his long fingers and ancient gestures, his delicate nails and milky sweet smell, his bell shaped mouth. I grew up in a family of five girls, and even more girl cousins, so he and I would learn together the mystery of what it meant to raise a boy.
We allowed him to explore and express his feelings so he grew into this thoughtful, lovely, funny young man that doesn't have the trappings of the stereotypical roles a culture or a society can impose. I taught him that his worth and value are non-negotiable, as well as every other human beings. I hope I taught him how to be love.
Someone posts, "looks like blood has been found on a boat in Watertown, Mass., and shots have been fired. Body found on a boat in a back yard. Game over." I see my son. I don't feel relieved. I feel sad. This is not a game. How could a kid get to this juncture? No I am never elated at the loss of life.
A conservative Republican Facebook friend "likes" a post of an article vilifying the alleged bombing suspect. The status update reads, "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a 'normal pot-head' who supported Obama. Well, that explains it." I am sickened by the cheap politicizing and side-taking in the midst of a collective tragedy.
When the father of the alleged bomber is called he says, "My son was an angel." I think, "My son is an angel."
There is a resemblance.
This is how a person like this looks, and so making a broader judgment about how people look is something I will always have to live with, until he is 40 and has a potbelly and a couple of kids around his waist. Maybe the worrying will stop then. I don't know. Does it ever stop?
Black young men are a targeted demographic. I was deeply affected when Trayvon Martin died, because I saw my son in a hoodie.
I guess what I am trying to do is melt that outer layer, so we could just see the interiors of hearts. Every mother of a teen knows that those years are dicey. For example, as a teen, I shudder to think I could have been raped considering the vulnerable situations at work, school, parties, on a date. By sheer grace, I was spared dark roads that being young and invulnerable can lead us down. I try to be slow to judgment and quick to compassion always. Perhaps I would be leading the angry charge, if I didn't have a son.
As a mother, I seek to know why young men are capable of such violence. What escapes us that motivates young men to act out in dark ways? If we don't ask and seek to answer these questions and simply rush to vengeful judgment, how are we going to slow this cycle and possibly prevent future tragedy? Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, and now Boston all constitute sacred reasons to figure out why these young men like to blow things up and go out in a blaze of glory. I hope this young man recovers. I do want to know what was going through his mind. We may never know, but it's important to find out why this line gets crossed. We pay in innocent lives lost and backlash on communities that have absolutely nothing to do with the nefarious actions.
I think as Americans and even around the world, we were proud to see Boston's finest swiftly take the suspect alive, and relieved that the city was restored to safety, but when I saw the image of his flat smooth stomach, and his boxers above his jeans, his face covered with blood, my eyes filled with tears, for him, for little Martin, for Boston, for all mothers who grieve for their sons. Just like I can't control the involuntary beating of my heart; it beats whether I want it to or not, a reflex switched on the day I met my son face-to-face. My lens to the world changed. Anyone could be my child.