why i don’t despair

It’s a cliché to say that the worst tragedies bring out the best in humanity. But it’s true all the same. Some people invariably step up — they put the welfare of others before their own concerns, before their own religious or political beliefs, before their own safety. It happens all the time, and it’s one of the reasons I never completely despair when tragedies occur.

Perhaps the most gruesome and graphic photograph published of the horror that took place at the Boston Marathon yesterday was the full version of this:

bombing victim

I’ve not included the full image, though it can be seen here. Before you click on the link, be aware that it graphically shows the damage done to the man in the wheelchair. He suffered what medics call a bilateral traumatic amputation. His legs were blown off. In the full frame image what you see is bone and bloody tissue.

But take note of the guy in the cowboy hat, who appears to be holding a tourniquet. His name is Carlos Arredondo. He was at the finish line to cheer on a runner who was doing the marathon in honor of Arredondo’s son Alexander, a Marine who was killed in 2004 during his second tour in Iraq. Alexander Arredondo died on his father’s 44th birthday.

Following the death of his son, Carlos Arredondo, an immigrant from Costa Rica who worked as a handyman, became a peace activist. He participated in several protests against the war in Iraq. In 2006, he became a U.S. citizen. The following year, 2007, Arredondo was at an anti-war rally in Washington, DC. He was attacked and beaten by members of the Gathering of Eagles, a conservative group whose stated mission is to protect war memorials from being “desecrated, used as props for political statements, or treated with anything less than the solemn and heartfelt respect they–and the heroes they honor–deserve.” Their mission statement also states they “vehemently oppose the notion that it is possible to ‘support the troops but not the war.’ We are opposed to those groups who would claim support for the troops yet engage in behavior that is demeaning and abusive to the men and women who wear our nation’s uniform.”

They apparently believe assaulting people who disagree with them is an act of patriotism.

Alexander and Brian Arredondo

Alexander and Brian Arredondo

Brian Arredondo (on the right in the photograph above) struggled with depression after his brother’s death in Iraq. In 2011, Brian took his own life.

That explains why Carlos was standing at the finishing line, supporting a runner who’d dedicated the marathon to the memory of Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo. But it’s courage and compassion that explains why Carlos stayed on the scene after the bombs detonated, helping several of the victims. This man — this immigrant from Central America who lost one son in combat and another to suicide — was one of the people who deliberately ran toward the detonation zone to help others.

Carlos Arredondo

Carlos Arredondo

There were a great many acts of heroism in Copley Square yesterday. Arredondo’s behavior, while selfless, was no more heroic than any of the other men and women who stepped up and helped. Considering what he’s already sacrificed for this country — and given the circumstances — nobody would have blamed him if he’d looked to his own safety after the explosions. But he didn’t.

We don’t know who is responsible for the bombing. But we do know who is responsible for helping the victims. As long as there are people in the world like Carlos Arredondo and all those police officers and firefighters and EMTs and volunteers and ordinary people who are willing to put themselves at risk in the service of others, the bomb-makers and terrorists will always be shown to be small, pathetic, cowardly ass-hats. And they’ll never be able to remake the world in their own hateful image.

I wonder what those eight members of the Gathering of Eagles think of Carlos Arredondo now.

(UPDATE: I’m reliably informed that the victim in the wheelchair survived, despite the loss of both legs.)

4 thoughts on “why i don’t despair

  1. I had the same reaction—I’ve lived in the Boston area for decades and we’ve taken advantage of the amazing medical care the city offers. Besides those who ran toward the fire at the scene, I thought of the scores of medical personnel, working round the clock during no doubt the worst and most bloody triage any of them not from active service careers may ever have seen. People who would know have told me that the experience of this sort of traumatic damage is qualitatively different in the ER setting than, say, an unusually active Saturday night with attendant diverse GSWs. It will haunt them for the rest of their lives…


    • I was a medic in the military a million years ago. And yeah, seeing casualties in the field is an entirely different experience than seeing them in a semi-controlled environment like an ER. In the field, you sometimes have to improvise treatment.

      And yes, even after a million years have passed, I still have some of those images lodged unwelcome in my head.


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