One of the stranger days of my life today. Liz ran her second Boston Marathon, and as usual I was there to cheer her on. She ran her first Boston last year, but the unseasonable heat and a stomach flu forced her to drop out around mile 14. This year, she paced a friend, and they finished a little before 2:46 PM. As you may or may not know, two bombs detonated at the finish line four minutes later. Liz was there, but far enough away that she was unhurt. She and her friend concluded their four-and-a-half-hour marathon run by sprinting for their lives. Not exactly what one expects from a marathon. At least she got her medal.
I was at Massachusetts and Commonwealth Avenues, about six blocks or so from the finish line, when the explosions detonated. I was talking to a friend of Liz’s who had finished about an hour earlier, and we both heard the bombs. We wondered aloud what the noise might have been, but assumed it was something benign. From that distance it might have been a truck dropping its tailgate, or a collision. Living in New York City sort of desensitizes you to loud noises.
I went and got a burrito for Liz, and while I was paying I started getting text messages about explosions and lost limbs. I didn’t know where Liz was, but I knew the timing was close. I spent about ten minutes telling myself not to freak out, and Liz called to say she was okay. Freaked out, traumatized, but okay. The first bomb went off just behind her, and as she fled she looked back and saw the second explosion.
I make no light of this. Three people are dead, and more will likely die. No one knows how many will lose limbs. If this were any other race, I would have been at the finish line to watch for Liz, and I may have been a victim myself. It was only the fact that Boston’s finish area gets so crowded that dissuaded me. As of today, odd as it is to consider, Liz and I are survivors of a terrorist attack.
Liz evacuated to her running partner’s hotel, about a mile and a half from ours. Around 3:30 I made the walk to meet her. The city streets and alleys were jammed with tens of thousands of runners in their shorts and race bibs, clutching silver mylar blankets and moving in a slow parade toward Boston Common. With major streets shut down, they were pushed into narrow alleyways. Most of them hadn’t finished their race, and didn’t know where to go next. The city was eerily silent, save for the pervasive sirens and the quiet voices of those checking in with loved ones on their cell phones. In Boston Common I passed a crowd of race medical staff, half of whom were crying. Few spoke.
What’s important is we are okay. We may suffer stress, we may have some PTSD, but we’re alive, we have all our limbs, and we can get better. Other people cannot say that, and our sympathies go out to all of the victims, whatever their harm. The Boston Marathon, and race culture in general, will bear scars for a very, very long time. Already I have friends wondering whether they will ever race again, or whether the fear will keep them away. While I wasn’t personally a victim of 9/11, I’ll say now exactly what I said then: We cannot be afraid. I know it’s hard to go on with our lives, and I admit the next time I line up in a race corral, my mind will return to this day. But if we live in fear, the bad guys win. We are, after all, the Land of the Brave, and as someone wiser than me once said, it’s impossible to be courageous if you aren’t first afraid.
There’s been speculation already about the culprit behind this attack. I’m not going to join in the speculation, nor am I going to repeat it. My hope is that the perpetrator is caught soon, and that all of us can start to understand what motivates a person to inflict this kind of harm and terror. What justifies the random murder of another person’s child, another person’s parent or sibling, or the maiming of a complete stranger, I will never understand.