Martha Mullen Responds to Unwanted Bodies

At the same time Marilyn wrote the post on “Unwanted Bodies”, Robynn was writing one of her own: “Martha Mullen responds to Unwanted Bodies”. Such is the connection that develops between two people who want to communicate through words. 


I have a new hero. I first heard about her on the radio several weeks ago. I was driving my car mindlessly, half listening to All Things Considered on National Public Radio when a story piqued my interest.

It was a modern-day parable of grace and convictions; of faith and love. As I listened I started to cry.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

Martha Mullen was also listening to NPR when she heard the report that the Tsarnaev family couldn’t find a place to bury their son, Tamerlan. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is the alleged bomber who died a month ago in Boston. He and his younger brother are accused of  plotting and  planning for the Boston Marathon bombings. These two brothers planted two pressure cooker bombs 210 yards apart at the finish line of the marathon. Three people were killed. 264 were injured. It was senseless. It was an evil act. But when Martha Mullen heard the story on the radio she thought somebody should do something. She decided she was that somebody. In the NPR interview she said, “It made me think of Jesus’ words: Love your enemies. I felt that, also, (Tamerlan) was being maligned probably because he was Muslim. And Jesus tells us to – in the parable of the Good Samaritan – to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. That was the biggest motivation, is that, you know, if I’m going to live my faith, then I’m going to do that which is uncomfortable and not necessarily that’s what comfortable”.

As I listened to the interview I was astounded by Martha’s simple faith. She took her faith to heart and she reached across the faith-divide, across the country, to a family who were grieving and who had no place to bury their son.

Like Peter Stefan, she chose to want the unwanted; to claim the unclaimed.

Martha Mullen is an ordinary woman. She’s married. She has a dog. She goes to a Methodist church. There’s not that much written about her. She really isn’t famous. Or she wasn’t. Until now. When she made the choice to get involved. Like the Good Samaritan in the parable, she crossed the street and ministered to a family that was hurting. She did more than think about or wear the ridiculous bracelet that wonders “What would Jesus Do?” –she did what he would do.

I want to be like Martha Mullen. I want to see those who are different from me as my true neighbour. I want to do the right thing. I want my faith to mean something.  True religion reaches out to the bereaved, to the widow, the orphan, the grieving. True faith says I choose to identify with those that Jesus identifies with–the marginalized, the foreigner, the displaced, the lost. The Unwanted.

It’s astonishing to me that there has been an angry backlash against Mullen. But she wasn’t surprised. Neither does she regret her choices. Psalm chapter 16 contains this delightful statement: “The godly in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them”. I take pleasure in Martha Mullen. She is one of my new true heroes. As an Ambassador of Love she did the right thing. When the protesters are now silent and the grumpy are done showing their displeasure at her mercy, I want to say, “Thank you Martha for doing the right thing. Thank you for giving us an example of what it means to actively choose to identify with the Unwanted.” 

Weeping for the Kids

Just down the road from us on Memorial Drive is a big apartment complex. It’s one of the tallest buildings in that area and is flanked on one side by the Marriott and another by a gas station. It’s steps away from RiteAid Pharmacy and Whole Foods; just across from the river.

I don’t know how many families it houses but my guess is it houses a lot — a diverse group that includes immigrants, refugees, and those who have lived in the area a long time.

Last night the 11 pm News focused on the building and the Mobil gas station beside it. Another young man from my kids’ high school was arrested in connection to the Boston bombing and he lives in this building.

This kid is also 19. This kid is also an immigrant, this time coming from Ethiopia. This kid is also an American citizen. This kid is also a kid. 

He tampered with evidence and now faces jail time for up to eight years.

And I can’t get over the fact that all of those involved who are still alive are 19 years old. I can’t wrap my head around this.

Think about the ages of the victims and the folks involved in the activity: 8 year-old, 23 year-old, 29 year-old for victims;19 year-old, 27 year-old – alleged bombers. And then another three 19 year-olds arrested last night for tampering with evidence.

My heart weeps for a generation. They were too young too die – and the others are too young to lose their lives through these horrific choices.

Never has there been more money and time put into anti-violence programs in this country. Anti-bullying campaigns have sprung up across the country. People are begging for a stop to violence, whether it be bombings, shootings, or bullies. Yet never have we seen so much sustained violent activity.

And this is only Boston – a safe and wealthy city.

My mind and heart move on to Syria where war has created an environment where children grow up too soon; where young kids sit on street corners trimming vegetables to make some hard-earned pennies, where little girls stand in bread lines, lucky if they are not raped in the process.

And so I weep for a generation that feels unfairly lost, unfairly violated, unfairly portrayed.

What can I do to change that? I’m one person! I can barely handle my stuff, let alone the stuff that, in the big scheme of things, is so much more serious.

But the sun still came up today and we are seeing our fifth day of sunshine in a row. Birds are chirping and a bright red cardinal sits in the tree that is blossoming purple down the road (Whoever said red and purple can’t go together?!) The river is alive with sail boats, the walk beside the river equally alive with people. Beauty is all around us – spring has entered with as much gusto and strength as winter ever had. During those cold days of dark, spring was moving underneath the cold and dark – change was coming.

So in the midst of this I proclaim the goodness of God, a God who cares about kids, who said “Bring the kids! Let them hear!” Who told us we too should become like children, who said “Let the little children come unto me – do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”*

A God who loves kids, who weeps for a generation, who refuses to give up but continues His redemptive work even though I can’t always see it.

In the midst of my cries to God for the kids I remember a passage – from one of my most favorite books on ever earth: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.


“They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps he has already landed,” [said Beaver].

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different…. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.” 

My heart overflows with irrational joy for indeed – Aslan is on the Move.

*Matthew 19:14

Forcing Forsythia

This year, for the first time, we forced forsythia.

Let me explain.

Forsythia is the first plant to bloom in these parts. Its buds begin turning to stunning yellow flowers as the first days of spring arrive.

But this year has been cold.

Much colder than normal. And so the forsythia stayed put, afraid to come out of its plant cocoon, staying inside lest the cold kill or harm it.

We went to my mom’s house for Easter in New York state and she had bright branches of forsythia on her windowsill in a vase. “Your forsythia is blooming” we cried! “Ours still hasn’t come out”

We were desperate for forsythia – a sign of spring, a sign of hope, a sign of new life. The fall and winter felt like they have held so much that is not life-giving, much walking in the dark, feeling around for markers on the journey. We wanted forsythia. We wanted spring.

My mom replied that her forsythia was not yet blooming either. “You know” she said “You can cut the branches and it will bloom inside”. We had no idea.

So we did. My husband cut large branches and we stuck them in water. We forced them to bloom. We brought them in, put them in a warmer spot and in two days we had bright, beautiful yellow blossoms.

We had forced the forsythia to bloom and brighten our lives.

I’m not sure all the lessons in this. But I know this – sometimes, when all around me seems dead and ugly, I need to force forsythia. I need to do something to force growth, to create change, to bring beauty.

When all around us seemed dead, we needed to force forsythia to see signs of new life.

This week marks a new beginning. A healing of Cambridge and Boston, the cities where I both live and work. Since last Monday at 3pm eastern standard time, there has been terror, death, loss, and hopelessness.

It would be easy to continue to drown ourselves in news, to keep track of every aspect of this case, to shout for revenge. But none of those things bring about true healing. Sometimes healing starts by embracing beauty, by voicing gratitude for the amazing signs of life that surround us.

My friend Sara of The Roving Home posted a beautiful picture of her baby girl, Francie on her Facebook wall. The caption above the picture said this:

“Francie at the beach yesterday, making the world better through cuteness.” Francie simply by being made me remember beauty and the gift of life.

As we’re shaking in the aftermath of sorrow and ugly we begin to surround ourselves with beauty – with light and life and all that is lovely. Forcing forsythia to bloom and change us.

And we begin to heal.



Live from Cambridge on Lockdown

We’re on lockdown here in Cambridge.

Since Monday the Boston bombing has come closer and closer to home until last night and a major shootout just one mile away at MIT’s campus.

20130419-135307.jpgWe are in lockdown – what better time to write? Bread is rising on the stove, ready to be baked in an hour, and the bright daylight is shining through the windows making beautiful patterns on the wall. The bright yellow forsythia outside our windows belies the chaos that is going on at Norfolk street, less than a mile away.

Since midnight last night our neighborhood has been under a type of siege. While this is not unfamiliar to some of my readers, for Boston and Cambridge it is unusual. These are safe, small cities in the big scheme of things. Easily monitored and contained. All of this began last night but a few blocks from us. We are on full lockdown, not allowed to go out, told to stay away from our windows. All of the businesses are closed, all cab drivers have been ordered off the road, and the public transit system is completely shut down.

It’s eerily quiet other than the sirens in the distance and the occasional police log that we are trying to listen in on.

It turns out that the suspects live not far from us in Inman Square, just blocks past Central square. The younger of the two, Jahar, was in high school with my daughter. A “great kid” she says. She brings up an old prom picture that shows the two of them side by side at prom in 2011. Well-liked, well respected, a wrestler, a scholarship recipient.

And so the why’s begin. A reporter knocking on the door to interview my daughter, desperate to create a profile: who was this kid, who is this kid? Non-stop commentary that we are so tired of but can’t bring ourselves to turn off. I look at Jahar’s picture – he’s a kid, for God’s sake. He’s not fitting our well-crafted profile of what a ‘terrorist’ looks like. He’s so young. And he has brought a city to a standstill.

What happened between high school and now? It’s clear he and his brother had no family around – a sister in New Jersey who has not recently seen him, an uncle who admittedly has not been in touch with him. What loneliness, anger, ideology leads someone to go from seemingly well-adjusted to being chief suspect in the worst tragedy that has struck Boston since the planes left from Logan International Airport on 9/11?

“I do not have one single friend in America. I do not understand Americans…”*

I am acutely aware that the immigrant experience can be fraught with loneliness and isolation. I also know that unless you have experienced the loneliness of coming to this country from a completely different world then you can’t quite understand that. America does offer tremendous opportunity. But there are times when that opportunity is entwined with insecurity, loss, isolation, a constant feeling of not belonging. Lady Liberty doesn’t tell us this on her inscription.

Please understand –– I am not justifying the actions of this young man. He is an adult and made a choice. His actions are evil and should rightly be condemned. To suggest that he made this choice just because he was a lonely immigrant is ludicrous. There are many lonely immigrants and they don’t bomb cities.

Yet the why remains? And I, like so many, shake my head and long for answers. Long for the world to make a bit more sense.

Meanwhile, we are in lockdown in Cambridge. And it’s a reminder of the many places in the world that wake up every day and safety is a foreign word, an unknown concept. May I never forget that – because today we are on lockdown.

*quote from deceased terror suspect in photo essay.