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LA ÑAPA

In Dominican Spanish la ñapa refers to "the little extra" added on at the end. Just when you thought you'd gotten all that you would get, along comes your ñapa, like a baker's dozen, with one more kiss, one more pastelito, one more mango at the mercado.

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No One Left Out

Like many of you, I was shocked by the news of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013. Immediately, I was on the phone and on email with loved ones and friends based in Boston, reassuring myself that everyone was okay.

Everyone I knew was okay, but two-hundred and sixty-three strangers to me, but loved ones and dear friends to others, were not. Three were dead; the others had the biggest marathon of their lives ahead: countless surgeries, amputated limbs, months and years of rehabilitation, emotional trauma, lives changed forever.

Two more casualties followed in the days to come: the perpetrators of this heinous crime, one of whom was killed, the second captured.

I was relieved to hear the news that the chase was over. Still, as parties and celebrations erupted throughout the city, and a rowdy muscle-flexing festival atmosphere prevailed, I felt unaccountably disheartened.

"The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of," wrote Pascal. But as a writer, that unexplored territory is the very ground I travel. I want to understand these inchoate feelings, these stirrings of the heart. I wrote this essay to understand my disheartened response, not only to the marathon bombings but also to the subsequent failure of our congress to pass stricter gun-control laws.

The essay was first published on May 9, 2013, in our local paper, The Addison Independent, for the weekly column, "Ways of Seeing."

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No One Left Out

I don't know if anyone felt the same discomfort when applause and cheers erupted as Johar, the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, was apprehended in a Watertown back yard, bleeding and too weak to resist arrest. How could any of this be cause of celebration: a nineteen year old who looked no more demonic than the sweet teenage sons of my neighbors, had committed a terrible crime?
Don't get me wrong. I was appalled by the explosions at the marathon, disheartened by the thought that someone would inflict such suffering on others. I, too, shook my head at the horror of it all.
But once that horror had a human face, as it most often does, another feeling came unbidden into my heart. As the old grandmother who is about to be killed by The Misfit at the end of Flannery O'Connor's story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," says to her murderer, "Why, you're one of my babies. . . one of my own children."
This kindredness is actually coded in our genes. Several years ago at his commencement address at the college, former president Bill Clinton mentioned that one of the amazing discoveries of the sequencing of the human genome was that, genetically, all human beings are 99.9 percent the same. Ironically, he added, we spend most of our time focused on the one-tenth of one percent, which makes someone else different from us.
Of course, the applause by Watertown residents was an expression of relief and gratitude to our first responders. But as the night celebrations spread to bars and block parties, compounded by the hype and muscle-flexing of some of the media, the carnival-like atmosphere seemed of a piece with the culture of violence in which these attacks happen in the first place. The euphoria also distracted us away from what had happened just forty-eight hours prior to the chase: our congress had voted down a gun control bill that would have begun to curb access to weapons--granted, not the crude bombs used by the Boston Marathon bombers, but certainly the weapons that had caused the killing of twenty-six innocents four months earlier in Newtown, Connecticut.
In the face of our powerlessness and sadness over such crimes, how might we respond? What might we do to posit another way of being a peaceable country?
Our own community is a good place to start. I recall when I first moved to Middlebury commenting to a friend that everything was so public in this small town, everyone knew when you hit a bad or embarrassing patch. She reminded me that my fellow residents would also know about my triumphs and joys, and that over the course of our lives together, we would each have had our turn at highs and lows, a good incentive to learn to forgive and tolerate each other.
That wisdom is one I find myself returning to, even though my first response is often that all-too-human feeling of "throw that evil person out!"
Perhaps this is a habit that comes from being a writer. You can't leave someone out of a story just because he's evil, or the type of person you wouldn't like in "real life." That range of human possibility revealed is part of the soul-enlarging power of great literature. Terrence, the Roman playwright and slave, once wrote: "I am a human being. Nothing human is alien to me." That could well be the motto of a writer, but it's not a bad one for all of us who aspire to that final "e" added to the word "human" when describing ourselves.
The morning after Johar was taken into custody, I happened to run across a quote by Audrey Hepburn, which helped me understand my response of the night before: "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone."
I mourn for those maimed or killed at the 2013 Boston Marathon, their families, a grieving city. But I also mourn for Johar and his older brother, Tamerlan, and for how they, too, forgot that they shared 99.9 percent with the rest of us.

Julia Alvarez
June 2013
Copyright © Julia Alvarez 2013-2017.
All rights reserved. No further duplication, downloading or
distribution permitted without written agreement of the author
(please contact my agent, Stuart Bernstein).
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