Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Strong - Reflections on Marathon Monday


If you've read this blog or know me personally at all, you probably know that I have a pretty strong connection to the great city of Boston. I grew up about half an hour north of here, and my mother used to take me into the city all the time, whether it was to shop in Faneuil Hall or to head to a Red Sox game on the back of a cycle rickshaw. We rode on Swan Boats and dined in the Prudential Center, and I even captained a Duck Tour boat. We always visited the beautiful Saint Ann's Church in Dorchester, my mother's hometown. She shared her love of Boston with me, passionately and convincingly, and I decreed that I should live here someday. Now I'm attending college in the heart of this city.
On Monday, I headed out with some friends to watch the Boston Marathon. We stayed in the windows of the top floor of Crate & Barrel for an inordinately long time looking down onto the marathon runners. There were soldiers, families, and people dressed in tutus. Everyone, even after running for 26 miles, powered through the finish line full speed ahead - and when someone was walking or limping, their fellow runners would come up behind them and make sure they finished the race in full glory, reveling in each other's shared achievements. And for some unknown reason, we decided to leave the Crate & Barrel. For some reason, we decided to chat in the doorway for a few minutes about our plans. For some reason, we decided, in an out-of-character turn, not to go to Starbucks. And because the streets were just too crowded to push down Boylston back to campus, we decided to turn on Exeter Street and make our way down Newbury at what we estimate to be about 2:45 PM.
We didn't make it a block before the ground shook and we heard the first blast. On Newbury Street, parallel to Boylston, you couldn't see the smoke, and everyone was just trying to figure out what happened and if we should be alarmed. I think even then we all knew something wasn't right. Then the second blast, and the ground shook again, and we saw a flood of people rushing through the intersections, and instinct took a hold and we raced inside where we locked ourselves in a dressing room with 3 other young women who turned out to be students at my college. The shop's owner locked the door, and I called my dad. He found out there had been a bomb. The phone cut out. We were all shaking and trying to reconcile what had happened with reality - not in my Boston.
The shopkeepers kept us safe inside until the police evacuated the area, and for a long and scary time we weren't sure what we needed to do or where we could go. Runners and spectators were wandering around like ghosts all along the Esplanade, displaced and scared and alone. The sirens were neverending. As we got further from the city, my phone came alive and buzzed nonstop. Dozens and dozens of texts and missed phone calls pleaded with me to let them know I was okay. Extended family and friends of friends offered me shelter; I had no way to get back to my campus. It was still part of a crime scene.

After what felt like days of walking, a classmate who I've never met offered us a place in his apartment, where we absorbed the news for hours as he offered us comfy chairs and pizza; free WiFi and phone chargers. He offered me, a stranger, and my entire group of 6 a place to stay for the night. "No trouble at all," he said over and over. My mother couldn't keep me out of her sight, though, and her and my father fought their way into the city and brought me home. The next morning at our coffee shop, I nearly burst into tears when I found these greeting me.

I absorbed too many dark images on Monday, and I struggled to fall asleep as I mentally placed myself in the Starbucks with the blown-out glass, or on the sidewalk for an extra few minutes debating whether or not to go to the museum that afternoon. Time was hard to grasp then, but when I Google Mapped the store I ran inside of, I nearly fainted. The proximity was enough to make me sick. And I wanted answers, but I couldn't see those images over and over anymore. I accumulated a sunburn on Tuesday because I sat outside with my mother all day, taking in the trees and the tranquility of nature before I returned back to my city.

But the great thing about the media is that every once in a blue moon they know just what to focus on. It warmed my heart to see the stories about the surgeon/runner who ran straight to the hospital to help injured victims, or the people who ran towards the blast to help out bystanders, or the thousands of people who, like me, found a home to stay in through the kindness of Boston's people. And to see the entire country coming together to help out those who were involved in this tragedy is something I cannot articulate the importance of.
As I'm making this entire rant intensely personal, I took up running just a few weeks ago this year. I visited the Marathon Fitness Expo on Sunday with my boyfriend, and we decided to train to run a half-marathon at Disney World in the next year or two because the spirit of the endurance of the marathon runners inspired us so much. Boylston was closed to set up the marathon, and we walked down the middle of the street in broad daylight, a rare treat in Boston. We jokingly "crossed the finish line" and imagined what it must be like to do it for real, after having pushed your body to its absolute limits.
The city of Boston is running a real marathon now, and it's the hardest one you could ever imagine. I still jump whenever I hear a loud noise, and I see the people around me reacting in a similar way. Copley is still closed, and the city is still reeling - I think it will be for a long time. It isn't fair what happened to our city, to our residents who woke up on a beautiful and uplifting day and had to endure such grave tragedy and loss of life because of the actions of a maniac. It is impossible to process easily, and the fact that I wasn't hurt doesn't negate all the lives senselessly lost.
Yesterday, I needed to get outside, so I stepped out into the Public Garden to find a beautiful day where families sat and soaked in the sun, riding my favorite Swan Boats and doing homework and walking hand in hand around the pond. Seeing people living and existing day to day, soaking in every moment and loving each other and their great city is one of the most comforting things of all.

I think one of the things this experience has shown me is that people are so, so good. For the one or few madmen who perpetrated this terrible act to my home, there were thousands upon thousands of others who just wanted to help each other and preserve the sense of strength and community that runs through Boston like lifeblood. There is so much love in this city, and it has never been more evident than in the hour of this terrible tragedy. It stands as a reminder to hold your loved ones so tightly, and to live each day fully, absorbing each little joy you find in the world and reflecting good back out wherever you go.
I'm sorry to dump this all on you, but I can't really think about anything but all of this right now. As a writer, this is like therapy for me. It's going to take a long time to return to normal, at least for me, but I'll try and get this blog on track sometime soon. As I usually use Thursdays to compile a "Things I Love" post, I'll share with you a few of the joys I've gleaned in the past few days:
This is Maggie, one of the comfort dogs who visited us in Boston this week. We pet them for over an hour. Their calming presence was invaluable.

Some of my classmates have raised tens of thousands of dollars for One Fund with this t-shirt.
The Yankees sang Sweet Caroline at their game on Tuesday night and if you know what this song means to Boston it is incredible.
Boston is my home, and I couldn't continue writing my normal posts until I got all of this out of me, it just didn't feel right. I think it will be a long time before everything will feel okay again, but I'll continue loving my city and all of the beautiful people in it with every fiber of my being. I can't wait to watch the marathon from my new home along its route next year, and I know so many people are waiting with baited breath to support one of the greatest events in this city in every way they can when it returns to Boston bigger and better than ever. We are strong, and as Governor Patrick said at the interfaith memorial earlier today, "The grace this tragedy exposed is the best of who we are."


14 comments :

  1. Beautiful, cleansing and inspiring... Thank you so much!!

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  2. Thank you so much for reading.

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  3. oh boogly boo. you said it so much better than I ever could. I'm here for hugs/bridal shows/boloco runs/puppies pizza parties whenever you want.

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  4. <3 thanks babycakes it means a lot.

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  5. Carol Morrison DeutschApril 18, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Annie you are wise beyond your years! Always remember: we are Boston,we are strong,we are Boston strong!!

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  6. I am in tears...for what you lost on Monday and for what you have gained since...I love you to the moon and back and I know you will be ok...it will get better...you are strong like the city you love so much! Xoxo

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  7. aw thank you Cheryl. I love you too <3

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  8. Thank you, Carol, it means a lot.

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  9. It was just awful. It's been a weird week and I have also felt completely out of the sorts. We are going through the same motions, as well as all of Boston. But, as this week has shown, Boston is wicked pissa and no one messes with us.

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  10. I know what you mean about going through the motions...but yes, people are right when they say they picked the wrong city. Boston tough, Boston strong :).

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  11. Hi Annie,

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are an extremely talented writer. I am thankful that you, your friends and your brother were safe during this unspeakable day of events.

    Karen

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  12. Thank you Karen, that means a lot! I'll see you at the NSTAR walk this summer, I hope!

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