From a Distance
April 15, 2014
One year ago today, I started this post, but when I opened up this draft just now, dated April 15, 2013, I found it to be blank.
While words escaped me in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings last year, the thoughts going through my head were erratic and racing, and while they have become fewer and farther between, today I can’t help but incessantly think of those whose lives have been forever changed. As a city, we are strong, and we’re resilient, and did hate win? No. But as people, we are still human, and we experience loss and grief and physical harm the same as everyone else, and it is devastating, regardless of how unaffected we profess to be on the outside.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on my feelings about the ten-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I was in college in Boston, watching the news from my dorm room when the World Trade Center buildings went crashing to the ground. While it was a horribly upsetting, confusing, and game-changing time for people all across the country, ten years later I felt that it was not my place to discuss – people affected by the thousands of deaths and generally traumatic experience in NYC were the ones to be honored and the ones to be listened to about their experiences.
This felt different. Boston is my city. Our city. I have lived in many neighborhoods over the years, and just across the river. I have worked, studied, played and made hundreds of joyous memories on Boylston St., and even though I was far away on April 15th last year, I felt the emotional shock wave from the blasts, and it still lingers today. When I think of the horror that the bombs inflicted upon spectators, runners, volunteers, first responders, and passers-by, I still get upset and tear up (as I’m doing now). Those poor people innocently stood, celebrating, cheering – completely oblivious to what was about to happen, in places where I have also watched the event over the years, where I have eaten lunch or gone shopping, where I have walked with friends and felt free and safe. It makes me sick every time I think about it. The photographs that emerged following the senseless attacks on April 15th, 2013 are stuck in my mind and in my dreams.
I waited to go to the makeshift memorial in Copley Square for several months – I just couldn’t bring myself to be there. When I finally visited, the ghosts of that day (panic, terror, pain, confusion, and grief) washed over me as I walked gingerly around the area that had been covered with blood and debris not too long before, to visit the hundreds of sneakers, posters, clothing, and many forms of tangible prayers and mitzvahs people had left along the sidewalk and in Copley Plaza.
As time went on, and after the alleged bombers were chased down, more and more stories came out (and still do) about people in my life – close friends, family members, colleagues, acquaintances – who had close calls that day. Who could have been right there. Who WERE right there five, ten, fifteen minutes prior to the explosions. I sit on my couch today, at a comfortable distance from anything that would have made a concrete difference in my life, but I feel changed. The remnants of that day in my life are not grief of a lost loved one, a lost limb, permanent disability, trauma, or horrible flashbacks, but the reality is that there is residue, as minor as it might be – frequent tears of empathy and movie-inspired visions of terror in my imagination have been joined by my loss of security, the brutal awakening to the fact that my city – my home – is just as vulnerable as everywhere else at the hands of cowardly terrorists, and the worst – my general feeling of anxiety about being in crowded public places. How different would my world look if I were just a little closer to the events of Patriot’s Day last year?
As real as my tiny little experience is, I am removed from what happened by several light years, it seems, which is a strange place to be, considering how connected I feel to what happened. I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to have been a spectator or a bystander that day, not to mention a medical volunteer, or a first responder, or a victim…or a victim’s family…
Thinking about the devastating things that happen in this country and around the world every day is upsetting and exhausting, and a small part of my hope for this world is crushed every time I turn on the radio, but what I hear and read doesn’t usually haunt my dreams. When something happens far away from me, I can’t picture myself there. It’s hard to feel as connected to a place you’ve never been, than the one you’ve lived in for half of your life. I think that’s what makes all of this much harder for me – for all of us in Boston – no matter how small the death toll was in comparison to other tragedies in our country or in the world, it happened at a sacred event, at home.
To end on a positive note…
Our city is moving forward. We will never truly get over this, but with every Spring, with every April that the world keeps spinning and the flowers keep blooming, I have hope that the marathon will begin to feel free and safe again. Time may not heal all wounds, but it might help those of us farther away from it all.