I’m from just outside of Boston.
My parents live there. My brother just returned there. A large number of my childhoods friends live there.
When I first heard that an explosion had occurred at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I had the reaction that most people have when something bad happens in another part of the world. I wanted to know how many people were hurt, and how badly, and I thought, “How terrible,” and I hoped that no one had caused it on purpose.
I was downtown shopping. I’d taken the day off from work because it was my birthday, but Mondays aren’t the most happening days to play hooky, so I was entertaining myself in the shops on the Magnificent Mile.
Before any of this had happened, a couple of my friends had gotten in touch to wish me a “Happy ____ Day,” where the blank was filled with something that is not “Birth.” For example, “Happy Patriot’s Day,” or “Happy Tax Day,” or “Happy Titanic Sinking Day,” or “Happy Hillsborough Disaster Celebration Day.” All in good fun, of course. Some from my hometown had gone with, “Happy Boston Marathon Day!” In the morning, my only reaction to that was, “Wow, the marathon is this early in the year?”
I was in an art supply store when a friend called me to make sure that my family was okay. I told her yes, that my parents were on a hike in Western Mass, and that I was sure my brother wasn’t anywhere near the Marathon. She told me that there was also a fire in the JFK library and that no one knew if they were connected or what else might happen. She said that large parts of downtown were being shut down. I told her I had to make some calls.
I forget, sometimes, how emotions can feel so incredibly physical. As I dialed my brother, and as the phone continued to ring, there in the middle of the paintbrush aisle, I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach and felt the world recede, just a bit. I hung up and sent him a text, then immediately called one friend, left a message, called another. My friend Ross assured me that he was okay and that he was fairly certain that none of our mutual friends had been hurt. My phone buzzed. It was my brother, asking why I wanted to know if he was downtown. He was, he said, he’d just come out of a movie, what’s up?
As I’ve already told some people, no one that I know of was hurt in any explosion or fire. I am very, very grateful for that. But yesterday, standing with two bags of clothes I no longer cared about, resisting the urge to brace myself against an easel, I had for a moment a taste of what it feels like when your loved ones are in danger and you just cannot be there. It was that helplessness that left me shaken even after I had confirmation that the people I care most about were safe. It was the inability to get on the ground, to see what’s actually happening, to hear at this moment the scale of the thing–it was the spiral of fear after hearing that what you thought was one isolated incident might be a series of coordinated attacks–it was the sheer ignorance of the absent.
We know now that it seems to have been two homemade bombs, that this looks more like the handiwork of a local psychopath than of any kind of organization, and that the fire at JFK was unrelated. We know that three people have passed away and many more were injured. We’ve heard about the marathon runners who kept going when they reached the finish line, who ran to the hospital to give blood right away. It breaks my heart to see pictures of the victims, one only eight years old, and to read about amputations performed on people who recently not only had all of their limbs but could run over 26 miles.
Size doesn’t matter. Scale doesn’t matter. What matters is that there are people out there who got hurt or worse, and that there are people out there who, like me, heard about the bombing and tried to call their family and couldn’t get through, but for much more sinister reasons than me. Or who could, only to hear their worst fears confirmed.
My friends and family are okay. Not everyone can say that. And if my 26 years here, to more or less the day, have taught me anything, it’s to love your people. Love them now. Tell them now. Embarrass them, if you have to; shout it in front of their friends, make them roll their eyes. But tell them. At a deep, adaptive level, no one thinks that senseless violence will affect them and theirs. Unfortunately, sometimes it does. That doesn’t mean we should live in fear. Actually, it means we should live in love.
To everyone affected, I am truly sorry. To all of you, be safe. And to my brother: Thanks for texting me back, kiddo. But next time, pick up your phone, ok?