Originally written and published in 2008; updated and re-published in 2013
Do April Showers Wash Away Blood?
The Boston bombings and the meaning of the cruelest month of the year
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
– T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
Yet another April comes to pass, with yet another April tragedy. This time it was the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon, in which three people were killed and over two hundred wounded by a cold-blooded act of terrorism, interspersed with scenes from the massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas and the recent earthquake in central China, along with the continuing civil war in Syria and al-Qaeda’s comeback in Iraq. It brought up, for all of us, memories of violent Aprils gone by, with the Columbine massacre the most prominent of all, and the Rwandan genocide the most haunting of all. And as it is with each passing year, it always seems that every April is fated to be punctuated by such scenes of horrific or bloody violence, and we are always left behind to pick up the pieces and wonder why.
The month of April, in history, can and should rightly be judged to be the most tragic month of the year. For it is in April we have witnessed shocking assassinations, bloody massacres, silent deaths, violent bombings, natural disasters, long wars and so on. We have the assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., the slaughter of innocents abroad and at home in Rwanda, Armenia, Cambodia, Columbine, Blacksburg, the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings, the quiet death of South Vietnam in 1975, the American Civil War of April 1861 – April 1865, and the Armageddon of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’s final days of infamy in 1945.
Why do such heart-breaking moments occur in April, and why do we remember them more than we do with the other moments in the other months? Considering the latter in terms of memories, the other eleven months do have their tragic footnotes to history, but for the most part they do not stay with us long after the last drop of blood is spilled. April is always singled out in that we are always haunted by the memory of images from such days of drama, long after its occurrence, like the students running out of the school building at Columbine and the haunting yet gentle snowfall of the morning after, the firefighter cradling a dead baby in his arms in Oklahoma City, the helicopters lifting off the U.S. embassy roof during America’s indecent exit from South Vietnam, and the rescuers running towards the bombing site in Boston to get to the wounded and the dead.
We will remember these images for the rest of our lives and beyond, but once again, why do they happen in April? It is interesting to note that when they happened, people often couldn’t make any sense of it all, calling so and so senseless and sudden, like the Virginia Tech massacre, while also finding it incredibly difficult to conceive a clear metaphysical rationale, outside of the killers’ own, for them. At such times, we often think about why it happened in the immediate moment, but never about when it happens. We often don’t go far enough to consider the plain question of why it keeps happening in April. It seems strangely contradictory: April is supposed to be the month where flowers bloom, picnics happen, students graduate, everybody coming out of the winter into the sunshine. And yet instead of the joy of such events we have deaths and tears.
Maybe it is because it’s a futile exercise in thought. Maybe it’s because the question will never be answered well enough to satisfy us. Or, for the religiously-inclined, maybe it’s God’s will. However, in assuming such thoughts, we are instead clashing with our own tendency, in the wake of such atrocities, to seek such meaning in everything that happens in life and death. If we seek meaning in such lives and deaths, in such horrific action, in general, then shouldn’t we think it logical and appropriate to also seek the meaning of why, going outside the life, the death and the incident itself, and when it happens? And so, if we agree to such a postulation, then it should be logical to consider why it happens in April.
It happens, because death has to happen, and death, in its’ unnatural form, is always a reminder of human flaws and failings. Since April is supposed to be a month of joy, of our exit from winter, death intrudes upon our lives to remind us that somewhere and someday it is not a joyful time, because someone or something chose to exhibit the worst of humanity, or failed for a brief fleeting moment to display the best of humanity. If it’s not happening here, then it’s happening someplace else out there. It reminds us to be thankful for the joy we get, because one day there may not be any to be had wherever we are, in April, as we begin our spring.
And it happens, because it’s a warning to us. It’s a warning for those who survived or witnessed such death, to fix the physical, mental, and moral flaws within our modern way of life, like governmental incompetence, appeasement, glorification of violence, apathy, reluctance (in the case of the Rwandan genocide) and so on, or be fated to suffer the same fate these victims of Aprils long since past suffered. Such a warning lesson in April is cruel, because the warning itself comes in the form of death, not a note or email. And it is crueler still that with the passing of each tragic April we still have to keep realizing through such bloodshed that we have yet to take heed of such a costly lesson.
In finally contemplating such a question and finding a real answer, once we have advanced to such a point, that is, we will invariably find our own meaning for why it keeps happening in April. And with such a meaning found, then comes the search for closure and a final, long time in coming, end to the bloodshed and the beginning of many a peaceful Aprils. But first, before the search begins, we must ask ourselves one more question. Do April showers wash away blood? The answer, heartbreakingly enough, is no, at least for the moment.
No, because we still not have learned our lessons from their deaths, from their warnings. No, because we will always have to remember why their blood was spilled in April, at least up until the day when we can finally celebrate a string of many a joyful April, because such cruel Aprils will have by then become nothing more than a period of an awful time in history. Such joyful Aprils will only happen if we learn our lessons, heed our warnings, and along with that completely and irrevocably learn how to continually exhibit the best of humanity day in and out. Then perhaps we will be able to change our answer to yes on that glorious day, and enjoy a simple April shower outside, without the blood on the ground. And we will never have to ask ourselves again why.