Many of you may have read or heard about the bombings at the Boston Marathon this past Monday. As a writer who lives in the area (about 30 miles outside of Boston, Massachusetts) and visits the city several times each year, I’ve been struggling to collect my thoughts – mostly because they’ve been a swirling eddy of emotions. This was a signal from my soul that I needed to write to express what I was feeling. And I did. I drafted the original version of this blog entry on Wednesday and Thursday, and originally intended to post it on Friday afternoon.
That all changed Friday morning, however, with the manhunt in Greater Boston and the related events that transpired. Some parts of yesterday hit much too close to home for me. So I re-wrote the blog entry to what it is today.
I’ll start at the most logical place: Monday. I was at work (again, outside of Boston) when the bombings occurred. My eyes needed a break from the computer and my body from sitting too long. So I left my desk for a short walk. When I went out to the loft-like walkway on the second floor that overlooks the atrium, I noticed several people watching the flat-screen TVs by the lunch tables. It was hard to tell from my higher vantage point what they were watching, other than it appeared to be MSNBC or CNN airing breaking news. But it also struck me as unusual to see that many people in the atrium after 3:00 p.m. So I checked a local news channel’s website when I returned to my computer.
I read the headlines. I saw the photos. I watched the live news coverage, as they replayed videos of people running away from the terror, others running toward the danger to help the victims, white smoke towering as high as the surrounding buildings, debris scattered about the street… If my mouth had fallen open, I didn’t feel it. Instead, I felt sick to my stomach and on the verge of tears – the same reaction I had when I’d found out about the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut back in December.
What horrified me almost as much as knowing how gravely wounded those victims could be was the fact that I know that area of Boston so well. The Boston Marathon finish line is located on Boylston Street, just beyond Copley Square and the Boston Public Library. For the four past Octobers, I’ve gone to the Boston Book Festival, which is held in Copley Square and the surrounding buildings. And I’ve walked down Boylston Street countless times in the past year: to go to Grub Street for a one-day creative writing class last summer, and to attend an 8-week copyediting course at Emerson College over the winter. Although Grub Street and Emerson College are at the opposite end of Boylston from the blast sites, I still have that length of Boston memorized: from the contrasting architecture styles of the older buildings (the library and churches) and the modern-day high-rises, to the lush grass and colorful flowers behind the iron fences, to the loosened bricks in the Copley Square sidewalks. I feel connected with this area for these reasons and have so many fond memories of it. And now, after seeing footage of parts of Boylston Street littered with debris and covered with blood, I’m appalled that someone has violated this special place and the people who were there that day.
The rest of the week was unsettling. I went about my normal routine, but my mind was constantly wandering. I found myself riveted by updates on the investigation, as well as the touching and inspiring interfaith service in the South End on Thursday. I wasn’t alone, however. From talking to my family, friends, and co-workers as the days went on, I could tell that we were all still on edge.
Then Friday dawned.
I had the day off from work and was woken up around 6:45 a.m. by my cell phone ringing. The call was from Emerson College’s emergency alert system, telling students that the campus was suddenly closed. I jumped out of bed, ran into the living room, and turned on the TV. Somehow I knew this was linked to the bombings. And I was right: The news was reporting several towns and the city of Boston were on lockdown for a manhunt for the surviving suspect.
Part of me couldn’t believe what was going on. It was almost like watching a movie, seeing the SWAT teams patrolling the streets in humvees. But I knew better than to stay planted in front of the TV. My hometown wasn’t affected by the lockdown, so I got ready for the day and left home to run errands. I was in my car around 9:50 a.m. when I heard on the radio that the suspect-at-large was a student at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth and authorities at the school were evacuating his dormitory.
My heart dropped. My younger brother is a student at UMass Dartmouth.
Immediately I called my mother to tell her what I’d heard. Then I texted my brother as quickly as my fingers could fly over the phone keyboard. Within minutes, we found out he was OK. But he needed to leave campus; the entire school was now being evacuated. Since my brother’s car was at my parents’ house, he had no idea what he’d do once he was off-campus. Luckily my father had already planned to go to a neighboring town for a work-related meeting. So my brother’s roommate was kind enough to drive my brother into that town and drop him off with my father.
Knowing that my brother was safe and not in any danger didn’t reassure me, though. A friend of mine was in one of the communities on lockdown – specifically Watertown, the town where authorities believed the suspect was hiding. So I was shaken and distracted as I went about the rest of my day. When I was in the car or at home, my attention was glued to the manhunt coverage. When I was away from TV or internet access, I kept thinking about my brother, my friend, and other people who were affected by the day’s events and praying it all would end soon peacefully. I even tensed up whenever I heard police car sirens. After dinner, I went to my parents’ house and gave my brother a hug. He’s usually not the hugging type, but he welcomed it eagerly this time. Doing that helped me feel the most at-ease I’d felt all week. And I was still at my parents’ house around 8:45 p.m. when we could finally breathe a collective sigh of relief: The suspect had been captured – just houses away from where my friend lives – and no one in Watertown had been harmed.
I can’t express how grateful I am that everyone I know is safe and for the law enforcement officials who worked so hard after the attacks to sift through the clues, find the suspects, and protect the citizens of the Commonwealth during those intense hours yesterday. But my heart aches for those who weren’t fortunate: the four victims who didn’t deserve to die, the wounded who will bear mental and physical scars from the event for the rest of their lives, the families affected by the loss of or injuries to their loved ones, the runners who were still on the race course at the time and were robbed of their chance to cross the finish line, and the witnesses to the chaos and carnage as it unfolded. It also aches for one of my state’s most celebrated and treasured traditions, one that is shared by runners from across the country and all over the world. If you think about it, any marathon – be it Boston, New York City, London, or anywhere else – is like a mini Olympics. The fact that someone tried to mar a sporting event where Americans, Ethiopians, Japanese, Italians, and people of other nationalities participate in the spirit of friendly competition makes the bombings not just an attack on Boston, but an attack on humanity in general.
Infuriating sadness may have been my first reaction to the bombings, but that emotion has evolved into something more constructive: I want to offer compassion and help with the healing. I’ve already acted on that desire. Earlier this week, I donated to One Fund Boston to help those most affected by the tragedy. I also plan to write a poem. Poetry Magazine shared Bob Hicok’s “In The Loop” on Facebook during the week, and reading that poem has inspired me to respond in one of the few ways I know how.
And, perhaps most importantly, I plan to return to Boylston Street – not once, but many times. There are more Boston Book Festivals to attend, more writing classes to take at Grub Street, and more reasons beyond those. I’m not afraid to go back there. So are the runners and spectators who have already said they’ll return next year; and the Boston Athletic Association, who confirmed the Boston Marathon will continue in 2014. That’s all we can do in the wake: keep moving– or, in some cases, running – forward and living our lives with the knowledge that courage, compassion, and love will always triumph over hatred and violence.
If you would like to donate to causes that benefit the victims and wounded of the Boston Marathon and their families, click on the links below: