This is a reflection on the events of April 15th, 2013. As a resident of Massachusetts, I was shaken by the occurrence of a terrorist bombing in the city of Boston. This is what it is like to go about the day at the moment, during and afterward. This is one experience.
On April 15th 2013, Patriot’s Day, the 117th Boston Marathon was interrupted by the detonation of two (2) shrapnel filled bombs placed near the finish line of the prestigious race. Three (3) people died as a result of the blast and countless others have been injured for life. Their injuries included the loss of one or more limbs, auditory damage and shrapnel wounds.
The annual marathon, to a lifelong resident, is part of what it means to be from Massachusetts. For years, I have harbored a secret ambition someday to run it as well. The entire race is a festival for the runners and the spectators in the numerous cities and towns they pass through. Traditionally, the Red Sox open the baseball season with a home game on what is known here as Patriot’s Day. This holiday is special to us as the American revolution began in Concord. We hold this day sacred and honor it in many different ways. Ten years ago, I went to Boston in the hopes of being at Fenway Park for Opening Day. There were no more tickets at the box office for the ball game, so I wandered around, ended up at the finish line for the marathon. The run ends at Boylston Street in front of the Public Library. I had been across the street ten years ago from the very spot where one of the bombs went off.
That the bombs went off took everyone by surprise. The level of security on the marathon route is relatively strong and especially formidable at the finish line. That someone had the audacity to do so was bold, reckless and taunting. I had spent the greater part of this day outside in my garden. I thought about the race all day and said to myself, okay, the wheelchair crowd is done, here comes the elegant Kenyan or Ethiopian to win the race. There is nothing finer to watch than an elite runner coming down the street. The winner is generally spry, almost birdlike in physique. It is a beautiful event to be part of.
Hell on Earth
I turned on TV around six o’clock that evening curious to see who won. What I found was a scene of chaos and killing. We had an unfiltered view from within the state. The pictures and sounds coming over the live feed were stunning as we saw victim after victim being taken to the medical tents. The blood on the streets and sight of people with torn bodies, bleeding to death is hard to look at but hard to look away from. We rarely see scenes from actual battlefields and can only wonder at what happens. This was a war zone. An enemy did the best they could to take out as many people as possible while the cameras were rolling. The blasts struck the heart of every patriot. As a community, we moved fast to aid the victims while looking over our shoulder to see what was coming next.
The news services tried to cover the event in real time with factual information. There were rumors of three (3) more devices in the area. One of the major hospitals in Boston was being watched carefully for suspicious activity. Meanwhile, the runners in the race had to quickly comprehend that they could not finish and were essentially stranded without the ability to reach the finish line and their support teams. The support team may be family and friends who have their backpack ready with water, nutrients and clothing to assist the runner. It is a mighty effort to complete the 26 mile marathon. But, the blasts, and fear of more bombs created a confused scene that had to be sorted out. The Westin Hotel was evacuated for a suspicious package. Many of the runners were staying at the hotel and could not go in. Members of the Boston Athletic Association and local residents stepped in to give shelter to runners and families for several days.
The next few days were a confusing blur of fear. Massachusetts is a small state. Whoever exploded the bombs did not identify themselves, it was impossible to understand who they were and if more bombings were to come. As an ordinary citizen, I did my best to understand what was happening and felt the old fears of terrorism lurking around the corner. I work in a large city and suddenly, the day to day landscape became predatory. I work adjacent to a large court house and police station. These are excellent targets for terrorists. The mobility of our highway and rail system is good for commuters and terrorists alike. It would be too easy for the bombers to slip in and out of town virtually unnoticed. The idea that the person could be standing right next to me was uppermost in my mind.
Support from Without
I am a fan of the trio of singers known as: Il Volo. Modern social media and the singers willingness to chatter directly with their fans make for a terrific opportunity to join the community at large and be a part of it all. As I was early on fascinated by the voice and youth of Piero Barone, I selected him as the one to follow on Twitter sometime in September of 2012. It’s fun to read his comments. He is generally charming and somewhat homespun in his style of chatter. So, I had a sense of him as a person who enjoyed a connection to people. I checked Twitter as I typically do that Tuesday morning and read from Piero a message about a new tweet. When I opened the picture, there was a heart wrapped around a map of our community. The words said Pray for Boston. Il Volo had been in the city in June of 2012 as part of the PBS fund raising efforts that year. I attended their concert performance in September of 2012. I was still on edge from the events of the day before and replied to Piero that I lived in Massachusetts and if people wanted to help, plan to give blood today. Well, didn’t Piero reply back within an hour or two wearing a Red Sox sweatshirt posting: Boston I am with you 100%. I think all the guys sent out messages of hope and support.
On Tuesday, the hunt was on for the bomber. At one point, there was a scare at the Federal Court House that cleared the building. There was rumor of a suspect in hand. On Wednesday, President Obama and other dignitaries arrived to say grace. As much as the support was welcomed, it was disturbing as the bomber was still at large. Every hour brought more and more suspense. On Thursday evening, the suspects pictures appeared on television. Over and over again, we were shown who they were and what to look for. The situation was extremely dangerous. These men were definitely ready for anything and would do something without provocation. There was some comfort in seeing the enemy and residents rallied to find the bombers. Being so close to the event, it is hard to know what the rest of the country sees or thinks. I have lived through two (2) natural weather events that were ominous and created a different awareness with reality. When you are in the middle of the storm, it’s hard to see anything but the immediate environment. You just try to get through the day, worry, fret but carry on.
My source for media information came mostly from a program on PBS called Greater Boston, on WGBH TV. I have been a fan of the news and public affairs program for well over ten years. Emily Rooney is the host. She is the daughter of the late Andy Rooney and has a similar streak of pugnacious, pragmatic but compassionate journalism. She is a realist and keeps the audience informed. The program is on weeknights at 7 p.m. Every evening that week, Emily, along with reporters Jared Bowen and Adam Reilly, would speak directly to the audience giving up to date news on the day’s events but also personal reflection of the danger and weariness. We began quickly to absorb the names of the victims both living and dead. Of particular note, is the Richard Family, Martin Richard was killed at the scene, his sister lost a leg, mother and father suffered terrible injuries. There is video from the event showing one view of Martin standing up against the protective fencing and another view a few moments later of the bag with the kettle bomb at his feet. The person that did this had to have looked right at the family. The bag was placed and the trigger detonated from a safe distance. This haunts me. The coldblooded action of the bomber defies understanding.
Early Friday morning, I heard my telephone chime with a text message. The Boston branch of the school I work for had closed for the day. No other reason was given. Something was terribly wrong. I turned on the TV and was surprised to see replay of a midnight shootout in Watertown MA. The amount of gun fire was perilous. Apparently, the suspects panicked and with the police in pursuit, began to throw kettle bombs and grenades out the windows in an attempt to evade capture. The cars stopped and a face off took place with one of the bombers dying at the scene. The second bomber eventually escaped on foot. The panic in the streets was due to the first bomber being wired. He had explosives strapped to his upper body preventing medical aid at the scene. Considering this, the quick impression was the second bomber was wired. The speculation was, he may have friends or other bombs planted anywhere around the city. The threat to public safety was at the highest level.
Despite all this drama, I did report to work as usual and carried on. Governor Patrick took great pains to secure the safety of the residents. He shut down portions of the city and for a greater part of the day, Watertown was searched house to house for the suspect. The Twitter sphere was my premier source of by-the-second information. Various news sources and regular citizens were sending out pictures and text of activity during the search. The end of the day brought the suspect into custody. The Minutemen of old must have stood up and cheered when a wary resident noticed something peculiar about the condition of his winterized boat. The suspect was hiding in the boat and survived the events of the day. He awaits trial in a Federal Prison. Unfortunately, cameras are barred from Federal Court. There is a great argument here for allowing those who want to see and understand have access to the direct testimony of all parties involved.
Recovery and Renewal
Life goes on and we all went about coping with the awareness of being in the presence of great danger. The recovery and discussion over the events continues with focused attention on the survivors. The media reports on the surviving suspect and attempts to pull together the events. The best reporting to date has been done by Phillip Martin of PBS, WGBH Boston. For detailed coverage of the day to day, even hour by hour actions of that week, I would recommend turning to Mr. Martin for further information. Here is a link to his page on WGBH Boston Public Radio.
Earlier, I mentioned Piero Barone of Il Volo, I am a fan of their classical-operatic pop musical style. When the “We Are Love” Special Edition CD arrived at my doorstep in late May, I put it in my CD player as I tidied up my kitchen that evening. Little did I know what was coming; when the song changed to Angel, I was surprised and recognized the song as a sad but previous favorite of mine composed by Sarah McLachlan. The voice of the singer on the second verse confused me, the soft gentle words and emotional tone I did not at first recognize. I looked at the liner notes and realized it was Piero. His voice and range of emotion along with the blend of the same from Gianluca and Ignazio caught me right in the heart. Listening to the lyrics, I became overwhelmed with the emotions of grief, anxiety and was once again back there with the families and runners in a great deal of pain. My heart felt weary, heavy and hurt. The line, “…you are pulled from the wreckage…” was particularly poignant. It wasn’t a little cry but a gush of sensations with visions of the event in my mind’s eye. I felt the loss of life and grieved. Every day, I listened to this song and over the course of several days, the healing began to happen. The harmonies of Il Volo reached right into the depths of a sad old heart and opened it up. By the power of positive energies, the worst memories lifted.
I attended the Il Volo concert in Boston on September 14, 2013. I was jittery about the long commute into the city and had some doubt about attending at all. My energy was out of balance and uncertainty reigned. The show was remarkable for its artistry and energy. I recorded Angel that night and readers can click on this link to hear it. At the end of the show, I was able to shake hands with Piero at the edge of the stage. I am fairly certain he had no idea who I was. However, in the middle of the program, they stopped the music and addressed the audience directly. They spoke about the event and sang a cappella the National Anthem. The irony is significant. Here were the gracious, strong voices of three young men at about the same age as the bomber, one person tried to destroy us with a black heart, and Piero, Gianluca and Ignazio reached out with the strength of heart to bring a sense of serene love to the audience.
I think the bombers underestimated the people of Massachusetts. This is the birthplace of Paul Revere, Robert Gould Shaw and John F. Kennedy. When it is necessary, we know how to fight and will but not as a first choice. In the words of Shaw, “In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it.” This is also the place where Henry David Thoreau gave credence to “Civil Disobedience.” If you have an objection, there are ways in a civilized society to present them. We were hit without warning and I am deeply disturbed that is was not a fair fight. To this day, I do not understand why such cruelty was brought onto innocent people. The fact that on Monday we experienced hell on earth and by Friday, an ordinary citizen had aided in the capture of the bomber was as brilliant as it was bold. To see the best and worst of people all at once is overwhelming.
I hope to never experience such a state of fear again, however, I have some doubt about that. The wounded continue to tell their stories in different ways and continue to heal their broken bodies. The runners prepare daily for the next marathon. There are 80 days or so until the next race. The Boston Athletic Association reports as of January 21, 46 Elite Athletes from 13 Countries Invited for 118th Running on April 21.