Living in California, I became accustomed to earthquakes.
That meant never leaving my guitar on a stand, never having anything heavy on a shelf above the bed and knowing to run for a doorway when the ground began to shake.
Living in Israel, I got used to living with bombings; immediately report any unattended bag or package, never leave your own bag or package unattended, enter cafés and restaurants at a measured pace, avoid crowds when feasible.
Behind these very partial strategies of self-preservation are the underlying unsettling realities that at any moment, the ground might start to shake and that someone might set off a bomb. It changes us to live with that understanding. It is much easier (and at times healthier) to live with the idea that the ground beneath our feet is firm and that no one wishes us harm.
In “The Diameter of the Bomb,” a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai in response to a terrorist attack, Amichai clinically describes the diameter of the device itself, its deadly range and then the larger circle of its impact in time and space.
The poem exquisitely captures the nauseating juxtaposition of mundane detail and cosmic loneliness that many of us felt after the dramatic and senseless violence at the Boston Marathon last month. Our connection to Boston and to the Marathon makes this our story.
Individually we are part of many circles of concern, compassion and suffering. In this case, because of proximity, we are in the orbit of the blast. This will naturally awaken fear and the need for greater vigilance and strategies for self-protection.
We should also take pride in the courage, professionalism and generosity on display in response to the bombing. It is this response that is missing from Amichai’s poem. His poem speaks only to the paradox of connection and isolation and the terrible yearning for God’s presence.
But there is another way to be part of Amichai’s “greater circle.” We can be present not only in our grief and loneliness, but also in our determination to live without fear and help each other in times of need.
We feel ourselves within the diameter of the “greater circle” that emanates from this explosion. How we respond is our choice.
The Diameter of the Bomb
By Yehuda Amichai
(Translation by Ted Hughes)
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective
range—about seven meters.
And in it four dead and eleven wounded.
And around them in a greater circle
of pain and time are scattered
two hospitals and one cemetery.
But the young woman who was
buried where she came from
over a hundred kilometres away
enlarges the circle greatly.
And the lone man who weeps over her death
in a far corner of a distant country
includes the whole world in the circle.
And I won’t speak at all about the crying of orphans
that reaches to the seat of God
and from there onward, making
the circle without end and without God.
Steven Lewis is Rabbi of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester.