An Unrelenting Thought


The bombings in Boston stay with me. It is not just the obvious tragedy of lives lost and lives maimed. It is not, as a runner, the perversion of a marathon — mass running events were so beautifully cynicism-free.

It is the demise of the Tsarnaev family that stays with me. That tugs at my heart.

The brothers Tsarnaev were the sons of workaday Chechen parents. A first-generation of hope. The bond of father and son feels so much stronger, so much more strongly tethered when it involves cross-Atlantic migration and by the weary paternal desperation of a father for his sons.

I am the son of Russian parents. Hard working, loving parents. There is no larger influence on me than my father, bless him. And so I know why the sadness of the Tsarnaevs does not leave.

When we left Samara, two years after the fall of the USSR, it was surely no easy decision. My father was a businessman and not an unsuccessful one. As he likes to say: had we stayed then further riches would have come. But leaving doesn’t happen for purely financial reasons.

When we arrived in Brooklyn, I do not remember him not working. At a pizza place, as a deliveryman, as anything that can make a little money. I remember riding along with him early one morning as he delivered bread for a bakery. He tells stories of shuttles taken from Bay Ridge to work on Hoboken’s docks for a promise (and a sometimes unfulfilled one) of pay.

It is uplifting and inspiring and, most likely, not unique to immigrants.

Anzor Tsarnaev, the patriarch, fled home with his family because of ethnic discrimination, reports say. He worked in Massachusetts as a mechanic, despite arthritis in his hands.

He had dreams for his sons, I’d imagine. It was said that he was severely disappointed when Tamerlan, the older son, gave up boxing despite success.

He called his younger son an “angel” although his evil work was in plain sight. Parental love can be blinding.

So I have wondered how Anzor felt when the haze of the moment broke. And how his ex-wife felt when her son called in the middle of a firefight to let her know they were under duress, the words holding a childish call for help as the situation overwhelmed him.

This is why I cannot let go. Beyond the grave tragedy, this is a family broken. These are dreams shattered.

When their uncle came on to national television to espouse shame and angst and to distance his name from the bombers, I hoped people would not parody him and spit on his words because of the different worldview and Eastern European accent.

And I thought of my father. Because there is an inherent desire to prove your parents right for taking a chance. And what can be a crushing fear of not disappointing them. And how he had nurtured me to never think in those terms.

There is a drive to reward your parents. To reward their risk. And in that moment I wondered how the father of the brothers Tsarnaev felt. How broken he could be.

Two months ago, as I saw that family fracture in real time, I saw my father watching it all on the television and wondered what he thought. And I hoped that I had made this wager worth taking.

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