A Boston Marathon Meditation

He was eight. He will never see nine.

I didn’t know him. Yet his memory haunts me.

Years before I became an Israeli, I was a Bostonian. Not born and bred. But Boston was where I went to college, just three blocks from the marathon finish line. Boston was where I went to graduate school, a few miles further up the marathon route. Boston was where I started a career, and where we became a family with the arrival of our first child.

And at a much earlier stage of my life, when Judaism was nowhere on my radar screen but making music was, Boston’s venerable Old South Church hired me to be one of their soloists. Old South has counted the likes of Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin as members. But it’s also known in certain circles as the Church of the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon. In what seems like another life, I used to cross that finish line twice a week to rehearse and perform in the service there.

Boston was where we bought our first house, which we lived in for ten years. A beautiful house, an old Victorian built in 1889 in a little-known part of Boston undergoing an urban revival.

That house was in the Dorchester section of Boston, in a quiet neighborhood called Ashmont. Just around the corner from the house where that eight-year old boy lived.

The boy has a name. Martin Richard.

I’ve hesitated to put my conflicted thoughts to paper. Even though it’s barely been a week since that reserved city known as Boston was turned on its head, I almost feel like I’m too late. Everyone has already written about the bombing and the bombers. Everyone has a perspective to offer.

And seemingly everyone has written about a boy named Martin Richard. I’ve grown weary reading all the advice, offered almost entirely by people who’ve never experienced anything remotely like this. Even the many words of comfort, although heartfelt, have struck me as mere platitudes. Our thoughts are with you. We’re praying for you. Our love will overcome the hatred. And so it goes.

I live my life with the constant awareness that God runs the world and that everything happens for a reason. I also know that such convictions are easy to maintain when all is going swimmingly. Or even when things that initially seem bad turn out in hindsight to be for the best. But when it comes to the death of a child . . . No, I’m not going to try to explain the unexplainable. Or to offer some version of “I know how difficult this must be for you.” Because I don’t know. None of us know unless we’ve been through it.

Living in Israel, I’ve met parents who tragically have been through it. Which is another haunting connection I feel as I sit 6,000 miles away. Back when I used to walk across that finish line to arrive elsewhere, I never imagined I could run for 26.2 miles. But two years ago, I found myself stepping across the finish line of the first Jerusalem Marathon. My daughter was there in the crowd waiting for me. She was eight. Like Martin Richard.

That day, I was wearing a special green shirt – I was part of “Team Daniel.” Along with many others, I ran to raise money for a park to be built in the memory of Daniel Mandel. The effort was organized by his parents, David and Cheryl. For Daniel was killed in 2003 – by terrorists.

Next year’s Boston Marathon will likely see people running in Martin Richard’s memory, maybe even raising money for a park or a memorial. At least I hope so.

But it won’t take the place of an eight year old boy who will never see nine.

All of those articles and columns and advice will continue for a while. But even now, they are becoming less about the victims and more about the bombers. Soon we’ll turn to other news. Maybe in a week. Maybe in a month. But inevitably we will forget. We will move on.

Meanwhile, there will be a family in the Ashmont section of Dorchester who will never truly be able to move on.

The Talmud tells us that he who destroys a life destroys an entire world. In Dorchester’s Peabody Square, about a block from where Martin Richard lived, there is an historic clock that Martin’s parents helped to restore. Last Tuesday, the clock was stopped at 2:50 p.m., the exact time the bombs went off at the finish line, the time when an entire world called Martin Richard was destroyed.

I refuse to offer advice or even try to understand. But I will do this. Next week, there is a race near my home. It traverses sites where tradition holds some of our Biblical ancestors walked. I think I’m going to run that race. But I’m going be thinking about those streets in Ashmont that Martin Richard and I both walked. I’m going to let my mind drift back to the Dorchester playgrounds where I took my son and where Martin undoubtedly spent many hours.

And I’m going to do everything I can to remember a certain eight year old boy who will never see nine.

• • • • •

The Richard Family Fund has been created by friends and neighbors to assist the Richard family in covering medical and funeral expenses. Donations can be made here.

About the Author
Harold Berman is the co-author of "Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope," the first true life account of "an intermarriage gone Jewish." Harold was the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts and has held senior positions throughout the Jewish communal world. His musings on Jewish life and spirituality have appeared in numerous print and online publications.