I've lived in Boston for almost 13 years and have never been downtown to see the Marathon -- but this year one of my close friends raised money for a local hospital and was running for the first time. She wanted her friends and family at the finish line, so my girlfriend and I found a spot on the corner of Exeter a block away, where we met up with my friend's mother and aunt.
I don't do so well in crowds, but the collective enthusiasm and positivity of the day felt contagious. The man ringing a cowbell to my left, yelling out "Good job!"
The two girls in front of me, leaning over the railing and screaming nonstop as runners passed. The cheering getting louder for soldiers in full gear (some still running!), a woman pushing a boy in a wheelchair. One runner noticed a woman struggling, and he walked that last block with his arm around her shoulders. An older runner stopped and doubled over, and the man beside me rang his bell. "You can do it!" We all got louder until he stood up and began to jog again. Our friend now within a mile or so, we were ready with clappers and cameras -- and then, to our right, a deep boom.
I thought, do they have a cannon at the finish line? Because the brain tries to make sense of such strange things. But then the windows blew out of a building across the street, and then smoke. We were paralyzed for a moment, processing I guess. Then, what felt like at least thirty seconds (which I later learned was twelve), a second huge boom to our left, and we saw another explosion. My first thoughts were, oh my god we're going to die here; how many more bombs are there? All I saw were people and buildings, and I panicked. My girlfriend grabbed me, and we ducked into the closed doorway of the Lenox Hotel. We banged on the window panels of the doors, but no one was there. I asked her several times if we were going to die. She kept telling me, "No, I don't think so." (She doesn't remember me asking her that.) All of this in less than a minute. We lost our friend's mother and aunt in the crowd. (They're okay.) From where we stood, we didn't see any victims, just people scattering. We remembered the side alley next to the Lenox, which was how we'd gotten to Boylston, and she guided me towards it. We just thought, we have to get away from all the big buildings. I tried to call my father, but phones weren't working. A child in a stroller asked, "What was that?" A father said to his family, "God is good to us." Runners in foil blankets looked dazed, in disbelief. We kept walking. As we got further from the perimeter of downtown, no one seemed to know what had happened. A woman was gardening. Two kids played by the sidewalk. We walked until we got to the waterfront. Outside the Children's Museum, a family smiled for a picture on the dock, the Boston skyline behind them. We walked home.
Once home, we watched the video of the explosions. The thing that struck me was the number of spectators who returned to the scene, and I keep hearing about more. That man in the cowboy hat, pinching off someone's exposed artery with his bare hands. The woman who ran back to the site to cradle a child. Boston is a city that feels more like a town, and, in this time of tragedy, I'm touched by how our community has come together and gathered strength like a family. Yes, like anyone, we're resilient -- but even more so, we're processing. In fact, everyone is processing. Like a marathon sport, the human spirit is one of endurance. We must continue to be there for each other. In time, we will return to normalcy, even if it's a newer version of itself. We must endure. As poet W. S. Merwin, in "To a New Year" writes, "our hopes such as they are/ invisible before us/ untouched and still possible."