I’m looking at photos of you. Your milk teeth are gone, replaced by the ones you had yet to grow into, the ones you would have flashed in the high school yearbook. Your eyes and nose appear to be your dad’s; your luminous smile your mom’s. In one of the images, you hold up a handmade poster with the phrase “no more hurting people,” a sentiment flanked by magic marker-ed hearts. You were eight years old.
I was looking at you, getting that hot feeling on my eyes, when I received a text from my wife: a picture of a cookie cake, “Happy 9th Birthday Jackson” written in pillowy ribbons of green and white icing. Today, my son turns nine.
When I heard about you on the news, a simultaneous introduction and farewell, I felt like you had taken a piece of my son with you. I mean, your eyes, smile, teeth. For a moment that was my son on the TV screen. For an instant I’m a dad living that horror.
I read the statement given by your father Bill: “My dear son Martin has died from injuries sustained in the attack on Boston... I ask that you continue to pray for my family as we remember Martin.” That paragraph was hard to finish. How can it not be? I’m raising you. Every person with a child is raising Martin Richard. But then my waking dream passes, the gravitational pull of a cookie cake brings me back.
But you’re still with us. Your big heart, the one responsible for “no more hurting people,” was with the marathon runners who ran straight to Mass General Hospital to donate blood. Your kindness to strangers, your cheers for the exhausted runners headed toward the finish line in Copley Square, was with Carlos Arredondo, the father who has lost two sons—one to war, the other to suicide. Carlos jumped to the aid of a man whose legs had been destroyed by the blasts. As Carlos made a tourniquet from a torn sweater, he told the man, "You're going to be OK. Help is on the way." You are an antidote to the darkness, Martin. You are a lighthouse as we try to steer away from hate and aim towards good.
I just gave Jackson his birthday gift: two baseball gloves—one for him, one for me. Playing catch is something he’s gotten into recently. (I heard that walks through the neighborhood with your mom was something you liked to do.) Jackson pulled the gloves from the gift bag and smiled your smile, that wide crescent moon.
The truth is you did not take a piece of my son when you left. Instead, we have all kept a piece of you. You were taken far too early, but you’re in the smiles of our sons and daughters, and in the hearts of those who stay behind.