This past weekend was Orthodox Easter, which Amalia, my husband, and I spent with my parents in Worcester, Massachusetts. Amalia’s arrival was greeted with delight by her grandparents/rabid fans. But somewhere amid the flurry of preparations for the holiest day in the Orthodox calendar, we learned that there was another visitor in Worcester, one who was not entirely–or, not at all–welcome.
On Holy Thursday evening, we arrived at my parents’ still-sunlit home after a long, traffic-filled drive from New York. That same night, the body of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was delivered to a Worcester funeral home, after a similar business in North Attleborough, which had originally accepted the body, spooked at the two dozen or so protestors who had gathered, and passed the hot potato. When word got out, protestors assembled around Peter Stefan’s Worcester funeral home as well, but Stefan is not as easily flustered. “In this country, we bury the dead,” Stefan pointed out to journalists who called for comment. “I keep bringing up the the point of Lee Harvey Oswald, Timothy McVeigh or Ted Bundy. Somebody had to do those too.” Counter-protestors agreed with Stefan, holding up signs that read, “We need compassion, not hate, in the face of tragedy.”
But even the unflappable Stefan is now facing an unexpected obstacle: no cemeteries in Massachusetts will take the terrorist’s body. The elderly funeral director is has called cemeteries in neighboring states and they refused the corpse as well. Stefan reminded journalists of the professional responsibility undertaken by funeral directors, saying, ““We take an oath to do this. Can I pick and choose? No. Can I separate the sins from the sinners? No. We are burying a dead body. That’s what we do.”
Personally, I agree with Stefan; letting Tsarnaev’s body rot somewhere isn’t going to bring back the dead he killed or heal those he maimed during the Boston Marathon. But I also understand why people don’t want a gravestone to him in their community; they don’t want to face a reminder of such violence and hatred. I hate being confronted with reminders of violence, too, and lately, those reminders seem to be everywhere.
On Friday, April 15th, I gave up all pretense of responsible parenting and parked Amalia in front of an iPad playing Pocoyo videos for way too long so that I could watch live coverage of the manhunt for the bombers on my laptop, in our living room in Miami Beach. After too long, I decided that the operation could continue without me, and it was time to get back to being a mom and take Amalia for a walk on the boardwalk.
Later that day, not having returned to the computer and still trying to lighten my mood, I looked at Facebook. I was about to pull Amalia up onto my lap so she could see pictures of some of the friends she’d made in Nicaragua who are now back home in Indianapolis. But I’m so grateful I didn’t because on the screen in front of me appeared the same battered corpse who is currently haunting my hometown. One of my Facebook friends–the sweetest man you’ll ever meet–had shared a photo of Tamerlan’s mangled body that apparently had been making the rounds. Other friends were posting the full image of Carlos Arredondo, the Costa Rican hero who saved a runner Jeff Bauman’s life by holding the man’s gushing artery, which was protruding from his severed leg, closed with his bare hands. I had seen the same photo, mercifully cropped to show the runner from the waist up, and found it powerful and moving. This time I couldn’t look away fast enough.
I cringe when people post violent images to Facebook, whether they be of heroism or hatred, for many reasons. First, the images don’t work on me. When I see a disturbing photo, I don’t want to read on to find out how I can stop animal or child abuse or donate to victims of the Boston bombing. I want to unfriend the person who is making look at it.
Second, the use of graphic images devalues words, in my opinion. If you have a powerful statement to share–say “Boston Bomber Brought to Justice”–please make me read it, absorb it, think about it; don’t just slap some gore on the screen and hope I’ll keep looking long enough to get your point. To me, and other writers and passionate readers, words are actions. Words create images in our mind, but allow as a modicum of control. Whereas a graphic image is a visual assault.
Third, part of me thinks that the proliferation of violent images everywhere we look, from video games to Facebook, normalizes the violence, making kids who grow up seeing them more likely to think blasting people’s legs off is a game, or an action that’s just par for the course.
But most of all, I hate it when people post violent images to Facebook because there is a chance that I will be looking at the site with a toddler in my lap. I appreciate users’ right to post what they choose, and I know that children younger than 13 are prohibited from having FB accounts, which might indicate to smarter folks than myself that it’s not wise to look at the social media site with a child on your lap. Maybe I’m naive. Or a lazy parent (exhibit A: Pocoyo). But I go to Facebook to keep up with loved ones who are far away, not to cringe in horror.
What disturbs me even more than the question of how I can prevent Amalia from seeing images of evil and pain is the larger question of how I can shield her from experiencing those things.
I was thinking about this in church during the midnight service on Holy Saturday, wondering how can we keep our children safe in a world where suffering is everywhere. During that ceremony, the lights in the church are turned off, and the priest comes out with a single lit candle, whose flame is passed from worshipper to worshipper until the entire church is illuminated. At one point, the priest spoke of the light, and how it represents a flicker of hope in a time of darkness. The next day, I took Amalia to the Easter service, which is called Agape, “love” in Greek. The story of the Resurrection is read in several languages, to symbolize the universality of love.
I don’t know how long I’ll be able to oversee Amalia’s use of media (she’s figured out how to turn on the iPad herself, so in order to have any hope of control I have to stow it in places where she can’t reach it–but she’s more than half my height already!). And I know I won’t be able to protect her from all the evil in the world, because, like Tamerlan’s body, even if it’s not in my backyard, I’ll know it’s out there somewhere. But this weekend also brought me a flicker of hope that Amalia may be able to fill her life with enough hope, faith, and love, that, even when she’s confronted with an image of evil, she’ll know there’s light in the darkness.