It is 6:30 in the morning the day after the Boston Marathon. I am sitting at my desk in our den/my writing room. One of our cats is snoozing on the single bed next to the window that overlooks the street. Outside, the early morning light is illuminating the top half of the house across the street; the bottom of the house is in shadow. A garbage bin and several blue recycle bins sit at the curb in front of the house. Normally garbage pick-up is scheduled for Mondays, but yesterday was Patriot’s Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts, so the garbage and recycling trucks will rumble up and down the street today.
Such a normal thing. The garbage sitting out on the curb as a neighborhood wakes up to a Tuesday. But today nothing feels normal on this street, six miles from the site where two explosive devices detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday. Just a couple of miles from here, thousands of runners streamed along Commonwealth Avenue throughout the day, battling to make it up the Newton hills before the final stretch toward the finish line. Crowds of people stood along the side of the road to applaud and offer their encouragement.
I am not a native Bostonian. I was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York. I first lived in Boston during my college years, and then I returned for a few years after graduate school. On one Patriot’s Day holiday back then, I rode my bicycle along the marathon route and stopped for a while to watch the runners. I witnessed one indelible moment, when a wheelchair racer passed by using his arms to power up one of the hills. The crowd went crazy, cheering him on as he labored to get that wheelchair up the hill. I suddenly felt choked up by the sight of the wheelchair racer struggling up the hill while perfect strangers clapped and cheered and yelled that he could do it. It was one of those moments when, even if you feel cynical about humanity much of the time, you are reminded that there are good people in the world.
Yesterday, people who had come out to watch the marathon were experiencing such moments all along the route. Patriot’s Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts, a day when you get outside and enjoy the sunshine after a long winter. It is a day when you feel as if you are playing hookey because your office or your school is closed. You start thinking about putting mulch around the tulip bulbs in your garden, or painting that back deck. In the meantime, runners from around the world have descended on Boston and are packing the hotels, excited for the event they have been training for, for months or even years. A few elite athletes are running to win, but most are here simply to make it to the finish line. That is their dream.
Patriot’s Day is a celebration – a joyful day, a fun day. No one expected, yesterday, that it would turn into an unspeakable horror.
For about an hour after the explosions at the marathon finish line, while horrific images flashed over and over across the television screen, I waited to hear from a friend whose father helps organize the race. My friend watches from the finish line every year. I sent her a text. I called her cell and left a message. I didn’t hear back. I didn’t know at the time that cell towers in the area had been shut down to avoid the possibility that a cell phone might detonate another device. As I waited and waited and got no response, I sat shaking in front of the television, watching as tidbits of news came in – the number of injuries, how serious they were, two dead, three dead, the Green Line shut down, air space closed, airport arrivals halted. Residents, stay at home.
About an hour after I had tried to reach my friend, she sent a text saying that she was OK. She had left the finish line minutes before the explosions and had seen the blasts from her office nearby. She sent a photo of the scene from her office window. She was traumatized but all right. I felt relieved and grateful that she was OK. Many people weren’t so lucky. The latest number said 133 injured. Later, 140. Police were guarding the hospitals, a fire was reported at the JFK Library (this was determined to be unrelated – another friend with a connection at the library helped me spread the word at the time).
The hours passed, darkness fell, and eventually there was nothing left to do but turn off the television. What was the point of seeing it all, over and over?
This morning, I checked in on the news before I sat down to write. Nothing yet about who did this, or why.
So I am sitting here thinking about those who are gone and those who are injured and those who had dreams – dreams that might seem unimportant now in the face of what others have suffered. We tend to think of dreams as moments or things. A nice house. A good marriage. A college degree. Someday crossing the finish line at a marathon. Of course some people dream about having enough food or a roof over their heads, and I don’t mean to minimize that.
The cliché is that dreams can so easily turn into nightmares. A lot of people will say that is what happened to the dreams of the runners and attendees at this year’s Boston Marathon.
But today my dream is this: that we will remember the man in the wheelchair and those who were cheering him on. That we will think of everyone who struggled up and down those hills, and those who encouraged them with applause, and those who stood watch over …