x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Postcard from Boston: Reaction to tragedy showed me the warmth of humanity

The Emirati international student Ruba Yousef Al Hassan says the city that has found a place in her heart will not just endure this horrific outrage, but will rise above it.

A woman looks at a street memorial near the scene of twin bombings at the Boston Marathon.
A woman looks at a street memorial near the scene of twin bombings at the Boston Marathon.

The tragedy on Monday shook the world. This venerable city, known as a bastion of higher education, entered the horrific world of death and destruction that is all too familiar the world over.

As an international student, I came to this city in pursuit of knowledge. But in a few months, I will be leaving with unimaginable rewards. Despite the seemingly endless snowstorms, the long winter nights and the city's still baffling obsession with baseball, Boston has endeared itself to me in a subtle and understated way.

It has given me not only an education of the soul, but also a renewed inspiration and a fresh burst of innovation. This city of a few million has awakened in me an intense fearlessness that compels me to believe in the improbable. In the words of one of my heroes, Bono, it has pushed me "to glimpse another way of being … because as much as we need to describe the kind of world we live in, we need to dream up the kind of world we want to live in … dream out loud, at high volume … because we have fallen asleep in the comfort of our freedom".

As much as I adore my beloved Abu Dhabi, Boston has managed to quietly sneak into my heart and lodge itself deeply within the crevices. The day after the tragedy, I saw a lot of what I cherish most about the UAE right here in Boston.

The warmth, generosity of spirit and ever welcoming human kindness was everywhere you looked on the cobblestoned streets. Bostonians were greeting each other a little more kindly, a little more softly, a little more thoughtfully, and reaching out to each other for comfort. There was empathy in everyone's eyes.

The wind in Boston blew a cool crisp reassurance that we would all be OK. The flowering leaves of spring spoke of rebirth and resolution. Bostonians have taken action, organising response runs and walking the final miles of the Boston Marathon to honour their city, and show strength and hope.

One of my favourite Harvard University professors reminded us that we could not foresee the tragic events, nor prevent them, but what is within our power is to choose how we respond to them.

She reminded us that this is an opportunity for redemption; to do something small in whatever area or place we work in, and she urged us to take just one small step that will make a difference in our community. She asked us not to be content with simply surviving or enduring, but to seek transcendence.

On the day after, my fellow international classmates talked of horrors they had witnessed in their own countries, as this tragedy in Boston seems to have triggered many repressed memories of terrorised homes, and lives. Stories of war, terrorism, exile and persecution have filled our classroom. Fittingly, we all came to acknowledge our shared humanity, fragility, and suffering. Together we all realised that there is no difference in human suffering - whether in Boston or Baghdad.

Nevertheless, we must not forget similar tragedies that occurred on that same ill-fated day, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, and the dreadful conflicts that continue unresolved around the world.

I am always disheartened and astonished that in this day and age the world still seems so far away from finding and embracing non-violent ways of resolving conflicts. But I have found comfort in the thought that I can always find solace in our heroic human ability to come together, draw strength from each other and help each other to not just endure, but transcend.


* Ruba Yousef Al Hassan is the Abu Dhabi Fellow at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She lives in Boston.