This letter was written on the afternoon of April 18th, shortly after President Obama spoke at a memorial service for the victims and their loved ones in Boston. In the time since then, suspects from the bombings at the marathon have been identified. I, along with many others I'm sure, know that these individuals will be brought to justice. However, I hope that in capturing them, we may learn something about why they would carry out such destructive acts.
As I boarded the early morning bus back from Boston to New York on a very somber Tuesday, I thought about trying to get some of my thoughts on paper. The majority of the folks I now sat with had just experienced the worst "Marathon Monday" in history. Many of them, including the lovely Canadian native who sat down next to me, proudly wore their bright blue and yellow jackets, signifying their triumph of having finished the great 26.2 mile race from Hopkinton, over heartbreak hill, alongside throngs of cheering BC students and finally down the last stretch of the course down Boylston street to the finish line. However, I couldn't bear to ask her whether she was one of the unfortunate runners who had not been able to finish the city's cherished race.
The reason these unfortunate individuals couldn't finish the race they had trained so diligently was because of the cowardly acts of some group or individual, who cannot stand the love our nation and great city of Boston has for friendly competition and athleticism, a cornerstone of our way of life. However, the unfortunate situation resulting from the senseless violence and destruction not only stopped dedicated runners from reaching their finish line, but took the lives of three innocent individuals, including an 8 year old boy, and injured hundreds of others.
I returned to Boston from New York, after having just lived there for the past two years to visit friends and watch the Marathon, as I had never truly experienced one while still living there. I had one friend running and I met a group of our friends to support the friends and loved ones they knew competing in the race. As we pushed our way down Commonwealth Avenue and onto Boylston Street, we shared the crowded roads with thousands of friends, family members, and true Bostonians, who would cheer for any passing runner as hard as they could, yelling out their names (often conveniently located alongside their "bibs") regardless of whether they knew them or not. One woman next to me was awed by the dedication of an orthodox Jew who chose to run the race in his traditional tallit, as he felt most appropriate doing so given his beliefs.
When we finally neared the race's end point, I saw one of the many servicemen who was not only about to complete the rigorous 26.2 mile course, but was doing so in full uniform and carrying his military-issue pack, adding that much more challenge to his task. However, as I later learned, shortly after this serviceman, along with the many others who ran with him, finished the race, he would spur into action to assist in the first response efforts after the two deadly explosions went off. By the time the explosions occurred, my friends and I had relocated to a nearby bar for some lunch and a beer while we waited to find our friends. However, shortly after arriving, we heard a faint sound in the distance, the sound we later found out came from a crudely constructed explosive device. This sound was almost immediately followed by the screech of ambulance and fire truck sirens, careening down Dartmouth Street toward Copley Square. Even at this point, we still didn't know what had happened.
Several minutes later, we experienced a bizarre and unusual occurrence for any public area, but one almost unheard of in a crowded bar following the joyous occasion for many. At that moment, the bar fell almost dead silent, as the eyes of every patron became glued to the television sets above the bar as the first reports of the fatal explosions at the marathon's finish line appeared. Almost immediately, cheers and congratulations became sobs and panic. Family members tried desperately to locate loved ones, but many were unable to do so with the loss of most cell-phone service in the area. I too tried to find my one friend who had been running but was unable to for some time.
At that moment, a vivid flashback brought me back to a Tuesday morning, 12 years earlier, when my 8th grade science teacher received a phone call in the middle of class. The fact that she took the phone call was cause for concern alone, but what followed, when she burst out of the room crying, will forever be etched into my memory. This Tuesday morning was September 11, 2001. The eerie similarities between that dreadful day and this past Monday have started to unfold; however, the most striking for me was the corollary of the second explosion at the race and the second plane crashing into that tower.
The reason why I have such a vivid memory of it is that I, along with many other Americans, all saw it happen live. After my teacher ran out, the neighboring teacher brought is into her classroom, where someone had already turned on the television. I don't know whether any news coverage picked up the explosions in time for the second one to be aired live. However, as soon as everyone in the bar began watching, we unfortunately became subject to live, unedited, and extremely raw footage of the gruesome destruction these explosions caused.
Even several days later, I am still feeling a mixture of emotions and don't exactly what I think or feel yet. However, after hearing President Obama's moving words, I felt compelled to try and make sense of some of this through words. When terrorists flew two planes into the twin towers on September 11th, they attacked New York, but they also attacked America. Having grown up in New Haven, CT just a few short hours north of New York, I had spent a great deal of time there growing up, going to Yankees games, going to the Bronx Zoo, Time Square, and a small part of me felt like a New Yorker. Now, twelve years later, I find myself back living in New York, trying to play the part of a "real New Yorker," for the first time. However, I still have and will always have a strange love for Boston.
I think part of it stems from my strong affiliation with New England, a region that first and foremost will always feel like home to me. While living in Philadelphia during college, I got used to being the "outsider," when it came to sporting events. Being a Yankees and Giants fan in Philly was difficult, but it was nothing compared to Boston. However, as a friend (and several others I'm sure) have quoted recently, "they may be M*ssH*les, but they're OUR M*ssH*les." I think this same sentiment has been echoed by countless individuals, including President Obama in his moving and heartfelt speech this week- "Boston's your home town, but we claim it a little bit too." From the President, to the Yankees who have come out in overwhelming support for the home of their rival Red Sox and have even played the famous anthem of Boston baseball, "Sweet Caroline," during their home games this week, what this tragedy has once again shown, is that as much as whoever carried out these heinous acts wanted to tear our nation apart, they have only drawn us closer together.
Furthermore, whether these perpetrators, the "terrorists," were domestic or foreign, organized cells or rogue individuals, they had hoped to instill fear in Bostonians and Americans everywhere. However, they have failed. While some folks were unfortunately unable to finish the race on Monday due to safety concerns, I have already heard of numerous plans organized to bring both runners and supporters alike, to "finish the race," and stand united as they walk those iconic final miles through Copley. Beyond Boston, the London marathon will go on. Sporting events and displays of national and international pride will go on around America and around the world, because they must. We will not and cannot allow the devastating acts of a few stand in the way of the great joy and fulfillment these contest bring to so many. And finally, this time next year, as President Obama so proudly and defiantly pointed out- "on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon. Bet on it."
- A proud New Englander, Bostonian, AND New Yorker