Last weekend I wandered into The Artform Studio in the Downtown Arts District. It doubles as a record store and a place to get a haircut, which sounds like a strange combination, but it works.
As Stevie Wonder belted out “Do I Do” on an old-school cassette player, I explored every inch of the studio’s expansive record collection. The walls were littered with classic album covers from some of the best soul singers and rappers of all time.
I knew I would never actually use any of the records, but I purchased Al Green’s Call Me anyway, mostly because it was seven bucks but also because the photos of a sweaty Green strutting around in leather pants made me laugh.
But there was another album cover I almost bought instead. It featured a picture of Marvin Gaye, though not the image most associated with the R&B crooner famous for his “Sexual Healing.” Instead, Gaye looks subdued — saddened, even — as raindrops fall on his head. The record holds some of his greatest hits, as he preached about a wide range of topics relevant to the late ’60s and early ’70s.
In the wake of the horrific bombing that occurred at the Boston Marathon on Monday — leaving at least three dead and more than 144 injured — I find myself unable to shake that album from my thoughts. On “Mercy, Mercy Me,” Gaye sings about all that is ominous around him.
“Where did all the blue skies go?” He asks. “Poison is the wind that blows from the north, east, south and sea. Oh mercy, mercy me.”
Those lyrics might not seem so pertinent in relation to this tragedy, but how exactly does one quantify something so terrible? The pictures and videos that quickly flooded the Internet are beyond explanation.
One particular image of a man in a wheel chair, leg blown to bits, sticks out to me. He’s pushed forward by three determined adults who are trying their hardest to ignore the obvious — that this man’s leg is beyond repair. It appears he grasps the situation but hasn’t fully processed it. The look of disappointment, of opportunities senselessly lost, seems to hit him all at once. And for whatever reason, the overwhelming sadness I feel for this poor individual can only be expressed by a Marvin Gaye song that replays over and over in my head.
Events like the Boston marathon are meant to bring a group of people together. Really, that’s the point of any sports venue — for fans to participate, cheer, watch and engage in something that can unite us all. There are very few things left on this planet with such a poignant effect.
And that’s what makes this terrorist attack all the more disturbing. Sports are supposed to be a safe haven of competition and camaraderie. The finish line is sacred ground. In this case, it served as a killing ground.
It’s remarkable how quickly those on the scene turned from marathon runners to heroes. Consider the circumstances — when the explosions occurred, participants had just completed a 26-mile course. I’m in decent enough shape and try to play pickup basketball a few times a week, and I’d struggle to make 26 miles in a day, let alone a few hours. Yet some of these runners — after exhausting themselves all afternoon — kept running, all the way to local hospitals to donate blood to the victims.
So that’s what I keep telling myself, and I hope others find strength in the heroic actions of such a brave group of men, women and children. In times of hardship, citizens of all different backgrounds came together to help those in need. The sheer number of kind-hearted, empathetic people at the Boston marathon far outnumbered the soulless coward (or cowards) responsible for these terrorist attacks.
In the coming weeks, more harsh realities will come to light. Some of the injured will recover. Some, unfortunately, will not. Politicians will use the incident to push their own agendas. Conspiracy theorists will continue to spew nonsense to test the patience of a grieving group of people.
But through it all, I have no doubt the city of Boston will persevere. It has the full support of the entire country, and its citizens showed signs of true courage in the moments immediately after the two bombs went off.
“How much more abuse from man can you stand?”
Gaye asks this question at the end of “Mercy, Mercy Me.” It’s a valid uncertainty to have. These violent acts are hard to swallow; they directly and indirectly affect the lives of thousands.
Sometimes our collective faith in humanity is tested, but I’d refer anyone whose confidence is shaken to the men and women who rushed to the aid of the injured. They are a reflection of our humanity, and that humanity is capable of absorbing this sort of senseless abuse to eventually emerge stronger.
“The Fifth Down” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this story, email Alex at email@example.com or visit dailytrojan.com.