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Boston Marathon Explosion: Being on the Side of 'If'

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Being relatively new to the Boston area, I didn't fully realize the significance of the marathon beyond it being an international race with a good history. I never experienced Patriot's Day as a paid holiday from work and was confused by a clear calendar on that April day when I first came to New England. "It's Patriot Day on Monday and the Boston Marathon," a co-worker proudly explained to me as if I were from another planet when I asked why we had the day off. "Actually, you should go and see the race. It's really cool. I go every year with my family." From his tone I knew that the correct and only response to this invitation was a yes.

I intended to go this year and invited a friend from Cleveland to join me for the weekend. Being walking partners for many years before my move, I thought it would good for us, and certainly less exhausting, to go watch the race and experience the diverse and global spirit that infuses Boston on the day of the marathon. If Yvonne had come to visit, we would have been there... maybe even at the finish line.

Instead, I was at home eating a late lunch when the explosion erupted. I looked up at the television that served as background noise. The local news anchor was rightfully confused and reported that what seemed like an electrical fire had erupted in one of the buildings just outside of the finish line. After the second blast, she, as did others on the news channels as I flipped back and forth, announced that the source of the blast was unknown. Within minutes, national news programs were broadcasting the explosion and soon Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino and President Obama were sending messages of condolences to the victims and their families, assurances of support for the city in the aftermath, and strong warnings for swift and full justice to those responsible for these terrible acts.

As many people did across the globe, I immediately began to wonder about the safety of those I knew who were at the race that day. I was relieved to receive emails and texts that those I knew were okay. Many had their stories of "ifs."

One story stood out for me. It was the visual of our friends' Christmas card with their beautiful daughter Mary crossing the finish line with her dad Peter at the 2012 marathon. I was able to reach Kathleen later that evening. Peter was indeed in the race. They were okay... still shaken by the events of the day, but okay. With the phone on speaker mode, my husband and I listened as Kathleen recounted their story full of ifs. She was eager to get another shot of Peter and Mary crossing the finish line for the 2013 holiday card. They ran late and were about to join Peter at the finish line after finding a place to park. She and Mary were stopped and informed they could not go any further. If their timing had been different, they would have been at the finish line.

Being on the side of if makes you take a deep gulp when you hear about the death of eight-year-old Martin Richard and the injuries his mom and sister suffered. It brings tears to my eyes when his picture is shown on the news thinking of this family's loss and suffering. You feel a pit in your stomach when you read about the brothers who went to cheer on their friend in the race and each lost their legs. We are saddened beyond words at how their lives and the hundreds of lives are now changed as a result of this terrible act. It is surreal that this act of terror can now sadly be placed on a list of homeland terrorist events. I shudder to think that we have a list that keeps getting longer.

In my clinical practice, I often used the adage "act as if, you soon become" when motivating behavioral change with clients. Act as if you are self-confident and you will soon become self-confident. Act as if you really liked your job and you may soon find aspects of it that you really do enjoy.

We cannot act as if the explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon didn't happen. We know that it will interrupt the peace of mind of runners and spectators of every future marathon. But for those of us who find ourselves on the other side of if, and are here to tell our stories of what could have happened and didn't, it is a poignant reminder of the inter-relatedness of communities and our responsibility to continue to cheer on, support, and protect each other. That is the spirit of Boston marathon that continues to live on.