The word keeps running through my mind as I try to digest the terror of the attack in Boston.
It’s a powerful word that can mean a lot of different things – to seek atonement, or, in a religious context, salvation. It can mean the payment of an obligation, as in debt or redeeming a bottle for the deposit.
But it can also mean deliverance or rescue, and that’s that definition I cannot shake.
Carlos Arredondo is the man in the cowboy hat.
He’s the man, covered in someone else’s blood, taking care of someone else’s son in an Associated Press picture taken after two bombs exploded Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
He’s a man, with his own story of loss and grief and perseverance who has become one of the heroic faces of a murderous attack.
According to numerous reports from the scene, after the bombs exploded, Carlos immediately jumped to the aid of Jeff Bauman, a spectator who was horribly injured by the explosions.
Speaking to the New York Times, Bauman’s family was clear: “The man in the cowboy hat – he saved Jeff’s life,” Csilla Bauman told the newspaper.
“There’s a video where he goes right to Jeff, picks him right up and puts him on the wheelchair and starts putting a tourniquet on him and pushing him out,” Jeff’s father, also named Jeff Bauman, continued.
In 2004, it was Carlos who was pulled from the flames, literally. He received the knock on that door that every military family fears. His son, Alexander, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps, had been killed during his second tour of duty in Iraq.
Overcome with grief, he jumped in a Marine Corps van and set it ablaze, badly burning himself in the process. The Marines who were there to tell him about his son’s death pulled him from the fire, likely saving his life.
Since that dark day, Carlos has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, even as he has suffered the death of a second son, who committed suicide.
According to the Bangor Daily News, he was in Boston to honor his son as part of Run for the Fallen, a group that recognizes members of the U.S. military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was handing out American flags at the finish line.
Without the death of his own son, it’s unlikely Carlos would have been at the finish line of the marathon on Monday.
But for the quick actions of the Marines who pulled him from a flaming van, he might not have been there.
Without his own suffering and grief, without the motivation to remember his son, Jeff Bauman might not have survived the attack that cost him both of his legs.
Through one person’s death, another is delivered nearly a decade later.
Through tragedy and horror and chaos, the man in a cowboy hat rescued another man’s son.
In his book, “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress,” former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges talked with Carlos about the death of his son and the anguish that combat had caused him.
Carlos described his son as being upset about the death and destruction of the war. Typically, Carlos said, his son would ask him not to forget him. But near the time of his death, he described remorse for the violence in Iraq and the toll the killing was having on him.
“It’s not normal to kill. How can they do this? How can they take our children,” Carlos says in the book.
It’s a question that we keep asking after Monday, after Newtown, after Virginia Tech.
At least three people were killed by the bombs in Boston, including 8-year-old Martin Richard and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, and 170 were injured.
There were many brave people – firefighters, paramedics, police officers and other bystanders – who ran into the disaster to help people.
And the help continues, as communities around the country wrap their arms around the city of Boston and all the families affected by the bombing.
Through his bravery and selflessness, through the life he saved, I hope Carlos Arredondo can find some new measure of peace, that by delivering another man’s son, he, too, can be delivered from the burdens he has carries.
God bless the man in the cowboy hat.