I remember, as a kindergarten student, knowing that Saddam Hussein was a bad man and that it was right and just that we were going to invade Iraq: Operation Desert Shield turning into Operation Desert Storm was a good thing.
I remember making several phone calls to college buddies when Saddam Hussein was captured during operation Red Dawn in 2003. We laughed, we guffawed, we talked about it as an early Christmas present. This was what sophomores in college, deeply engaged in thinking and talking about foreign policy did.
I remember hearing that we had caught and killed Osama Bid Laden. I jumped out of my chair as if to cheer, but the joy got caught in my throat, replaced by the realization that celebration over the death of another is quickly followed by a feeling significantly less pleasant than joy, though no less poignant.
I remember April 15, 2013 too. I remember walking back from Canary Square, a great little bar in JP, and getting a text from the friend with whom I had just been enjoying Bloody Mary’s: turn on your television.
I remember the lockdown, sitting in my room at the friary, attempting to do work, but clicking refresh on a whole series of local news sites over and over again.
I remember us catching this man, Dzhokhar and killing another man, his brother, and feeling pride that the lifetime cop who led the efforts to get him is a member of the community where I work. I remember seeing Father Sean Conner, who worked so much with the Richards family, mourning their little boy, mourning the fact that his sister lost her kid brother and her left leg, and thinking that was the type of priest I want to be someday.
I remember David Ortiz dropping the F-Bomb at Fenway Park. I remember the absolute guts the guy in the white beard, brown robe, and red hat had standing in front of a group of reporters, microphones on, just a few days after the bombing, saying “Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime … But, in our hearts, when we are unable to forgive, we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred.”
I don’t want to remember Dzhokhar Tsarnaev dying at the hands of the state.
In sending a telegram to President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the great Abraham Joshua Heschel claimed, in reference to the civil rights struggle, that our nation had entered a time which required “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.” As is too often the case, the failure to heed a prophet’s advice makes that same advice no less true. And that is why Dzhokhar ought not receive the death penalty: whenever we execute another human being, we tarnish whatever cause we stand for, and diminish its audacity by a failure of moral and spiritual imagination.
I will always remember the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings. And when I do, I also want to be able to remember that when we all saw something evil on our streets, on our screens, and later on a Rolling Stone cover, we did not sink to the level of vengeance. I want to remember that we reached for something grander, something more worthy of those we lost, and something more worthy of us.