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KEEPERS: A Young Peacekeeper

KEEPERS: A Young Peacekeeper

MOST STATUES HONOR the wartime bravery of soldiers or the contributions of past presidents. Rarely do they honor a specific child.

A university in Massachusetts recently erected a statue of a young man who would have been too young to attend its classes. The life-sized bronze statue captures Martin Richard at age 8. Martin—whose parents are alumni of the university—may be frozen in time, but his message endures.

Martin Richard was the youngest person killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. An image that circulated widely after his death was of Martin proudly holding a poster he had made that read: “No more hurting people. Peace.”

Martin is holding a rendering of this poster in the bronze sculpture which now lives in front of the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice at Bridgewater State University. The statue captures Martin stepping forward, holding his sign for peace.

After the bombings, it was difficult to look away from the picture of this little boy with big brown saucers for eyes and not feel overcome with anguish. In the wake of so much injury, trauma and loss, though, Martin’s message encouraged the hearts of those touched by the bombings. Let us move away from the violence and hurt and toward kindness, love, and peace.

Martin had attended a Boston public school whose highest honor was for a student named a Peacemaker. This distinction followed with medals and T-shirts displaying the pride of being a Peacemaker. I wonder if Martin ever considered how we must first be peacemakers before we can become peacekeepers. That is, we have to build a bridge before we can maintain it.

I believe that he did.

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MARTIN WAS MY neighbor; his mother Denise was among the first people I met who showed me kindness as a new mother in Boston. With my daughter in her stroller, we set out one morning to join a “neighbor walk” I had read about in our community newspaper.  I was desperate to make friends in our neighborhood, not knowing any other parents.

We found no congregation of neighbors, so I knocked on the door of the house whose address was listed. Three darling children, half-dressed, came to the door. Denise was laughing at the morning chaos of her children and her laughter was wonderfully disarming.

We walked to a nearby park. Martin rode ahead on his bike. Denise kept yelling, "Maaarrrtin! Stay with your brother!" He was eager to reach the end of each street.

None of the other neighbors that joined us that day, so I enjoyed Denise’s kindness all to myself. She told me about the best playgrounds and beaches in the area, and encouraged me to plug into some local organizations that did work that interested me. She pointed out the homes of people who were pillars of the community. That walk to a playground on a warm sunny morning with a seasoned mother was transformative for me. Suddenly my feeling of disconnection in being home all day with a baby had been replaced with an optimistic view of where I lived and all the opportunities available for an active parent.

Denise had built a bridge for me.

After that day, Denise and I were cordial whenever we saw one another. I loved watching her children grow, and the sight of her walking all three kids up and down the hilly streets of our neighborhood to drop off her oldest son Henry at school always made me smile.

NOT A WEEK passes when I don’t think about Martin and his family. I keep a poster in my office of the running shoes collected at the finish line of the Boston Marathon as a memorial. We will finish the race, the poster text reads.

Whenever I look up at this poster, I pause and consider the races I am running. I teach writing at a university. I lecture, I read, I critique, I grade. I am often running toward the end of a grading period. Or running to pick up my own children from school.

My daughter will soon turn the age that Martin was before he died. I grieve knowing that, like Martin’s parents, I cannot keep my children little or unharmed by the evil in this world. What I can do is to keep running my race, doing the work of being a wife, mother, and teacher that I am called to do. I not only want to run but I want to run my guts out in the race that the apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Phillippians:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 3:13,14

I consider Martin one of the great peacekeepers of our era. I am humbled to think that he and I now have the same job. His legacy and my calling are to teach on a university: sharing words of truth, encouragement, and peace.

Kendra Stanton Lee teaches journalism at Southern Adventist UniversityThank Kendra for sharing.

"Keepers" illustration by Joshua De Oliveira. Photo by

KEEPERS is a weekly One project devotional series exploring from a variety of angles the well-known rhetorical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). This phrase expresses a central tension in our community lives. To what extent are we our brothers’ keepers? Even more crucial, to what extent are other people our keepers? Various cultures have different attitudes toward autonomy and interconnectedness, but probably few are as conflicted about the exact definition of community, its boundaries, and its responsibilities as Western culture is. We want help, but hate advice. We value friends, but resent obligations. We enjoy affirmation and seethe at rebuke. We want community, but only when it meets our intensely parsed criteria for what we deem helpful. Don’t you dare look at me and tell me what you think I need, our attitude screams. I’ll tell you what I need and you give it to me. Then you’re my friend. Then we’re a community. And when we offer help, we expect gratitude, maybe even adoration. We like being keepers better than we like being kept, but we’re pretty poor at both. Yet existing in community is essential to our humanity. How can we balance the tensions we experience in positive ways?

SHARE! Do you have a story to share related to the idea of keeping or being kept? Have there been times when other people have been your keeper with surprising results? Have you struggled with determining appropriate boundaries in your relationships with others? If you'd like to write a devotional for the One project Keepers series, email the editor.

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