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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dear Old City: One Year After the Boston Bombing

(Note: This contains some infrequent explicit language. I wrote that in for accuracy, not to appear vulgar or impolite.)




15th April, 2013. 
8:40 am. 
Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC. 


Beep. Beep. Beep. 

The shrill wail of my alarm. I snapped lethargically into action to slam my palm against my clock, which stubbornly decided to keep bleating until I hit it a third time. I mumbled a curse or two, or three.

I wanted to fall back into the blankets and go back to sleep, but I forced myself out of bed.

It was a grim, gray day in Washington. Drops of rain sat uneasily on the window.

"Another day, another bunch of readings, research, and homework." I thought wearily. "I could use a coffee."

I stared blankly into the screen of my phone. "April 15th", I muttered. "It's Marathon Monday back home. The Sox'll be playing early today. Maybe this year they can win a few more games and not give us the worst performance since the Johnson Administration.

As if in a trance, I showered, dressed, and slung my bag over my shoulder.

I went to my classes. I scribbled down some notes as the lectures droned on, vaguely apprehensive of the close end to the semester.  

After my last class, I stopped at the convenience store for something to munch on. "Boring Monday", I thought to myself. "Surprise, surprise."

I opened the door to my room and flopped down on my bed. I was in no mood to work at the moment.

I exchanged small-talk with my roommate. The usual political banter and talking about classes.

The gray morning turned into a gray afternoon. It wasn't cold, but that was about the only positive news from the world of meteorology.

BZZZZT. 

"Wonder who that is." I thought blankly.

A text. I didn't think much of it.

I opened my phone, and what I saw puzzled me. It was my friend Jesus. "Odd...he rarely texts me." I thought.

"Dude, hope your family's okay."

I frowned. Not in anger, in confusion. He was worried about my family, but why?

"Huh." I grunted. "That's weird. It's nice of him to be thinking of my family, but why would he be worried about them? He's never met my parents, my brother, or any of my family."

I responded, curious as to what this was about.

 "Hey man. Thanks, my folks are fine, they're on vacation! Why do you ask?"

BZZZT.

"The thing that happened in Boston!"

I'm sure my blank responses may have been a bit frustrating to him, but now I was more interested in finding out what he was on about. He seemed urgent.

"Omeed, can you check the news? Jesus says something happened in Boston. I don't know what he's talking about."

"Sure." My roommate, who was looking vaguely in my direction, swung back in his chair to the computer on his desk.

Taktaktaktaktaktak. 

I walked over to where he was sitting, and what I saw next...

"Holy shit, a bomb went off at the Marathon!" I exclaimed.

"Is your family there?" Omeed had heard many times that I hailed from the Boston area, and he looked nervously at me.

"No, thank God...they're on vacation out of state."

"Oh, good. Wow, this is insane. What happened?"

"I don't know man...I wonder if this was an accident or a

"They say they evacuated the JFK library too...I remember going there when I was in Boston."

"Yeah, I had a field trip there..."

I paced the room a few times, nervous and deep in thoughts. I don't know anyone there, do I?  I've never been a runner, I suck at running. But I know some people who are into that stuff...God, let them be okay. Who did this? Why? Was it an accident? No...this is too weird to be an accident. If it was a fire, maybe, but things don't just explode in a crowded area in one of Boston's most historical squares."

I wanted it to be an accident. I wanted to hear that some stupid pyrotechnic had malfunctioned. But my gut told me otherwise.

I called my parents. I knew they were okay, as they were not in Boston, much less running the Marathon. It was good to hear their voices.

Social media was a mess. An outpouring of surprise, grief, fear, and sadness. People I barely knew were all of a sudden offering words of comfort for Boston. I'll acknowledge that that can be a bit self-promotional and superfluous at times, but I was in no mood that day to give the sarcastic commentary that usually laces my conversations.

The rest of my day was a daze. I couldn't really concentrate on anything. I noticed a service and a candlelight vigil would happen at GW's Newman Centre, a house where the Catholic student group met.

"I should go to that, it'll make me feel better. I'm no saint, but it's the least I can do."

Around 7 pm, I sat down and found a video from the Boston Globe of the event.

Melodramatic news music gave away to the sounds of cheering, running, and excitement. Not three seconds went by however, when...

BOOM!

"Holy shit!" I blurted out, louder than I should have. I glanced around to see if anyone had heard my curse. I was alone.

A trash barrel on the right side of the road had let out a fiery belch of an explosion. The flags that were flapping ripped and fell into the street. The madman that happened to be holding that camera ventured closer to the site, as people ran and screamed.

I am a Roman Catholic. While I do not personally belong to the student group at GW, I needed something to get my thoughts in order and that sounded like just the thing to help me. It's true that I tend to keep my religion and politics separate, but I find attending services  puts my mind at ease, gives me perspective and peace.It's comforting to believe that there is something higher and more important to place trust in. I believe in God, and in Christ, and I make an effort to, at the very least, attend liturgies on major Catholic holidays such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas Eve.

The service was packed and progressed quickly, and soon, I had filed out of the church with about 40 other people. We were handed candles and prayed some more. I'm not a very emotional person, but seeing friends and familiar symbols filled me with happiness, even if it was a simple spoked Bruins "B" or the bright red letters of a Red Sox shirt. Friends came up to me and gave me hugs and kind words, curious as to whether I knew anyone there. I was relieved to say that my friends back north were okay. To this day I don't think I really deserved those gestures, but I am grateful for them regardless. Friends can really be a wonderful outlet when things turn dark.

I didn't know what lay ahead for Boston. I knew that while I lived outside the city's borders that I proudly identified with that city. As I said in a facebook post before I headed to the service:


"I don't live in Boston now. I went to a Catholic elementary school in Cambridge, and lived in West Roxbury for part of my childhood. Today, I live in a suburb about 15 miles outside the city. 

But nevertheless, for all its flaws and warts and grit, I identify with this city, and I love it dearly. I will support the Sox, Pats and Bruins until the day I die. I know Legals' Chowda and Codfish is served in Heaven somewhere. I actually enjoy driving around rotaries. I know what the flashing lights on the old Hancock Tower mean. I know the rest of my country owes this city for both Thanksgiving AND Independence Day. People I don't like are known as "Baaahstids". I had no school on Evacuation Day. It's not a subway, it's not a metro, it's the T. I know what a bubbla, frappe, and a regular coffee are. And I remember exactly where I was when Foulke tossed the ball to Mientkiewicz that October night in St. Louis-one of the happiest days of my life.

I love Boston. I love Bostonians. And I know that the people of Boston will rise up from this horrid attack like they did against the Redcoats more than two hundred years ago. Because that's what Bostonians do."

I know that sounds cliche these days, posting to social media about some old regional stereotypes. But as weird as it sounds, it reaffirmed a pride I had in the city, something that usually fades during the extended periods of time I spend in Washington, not unlike the nasally Boston accent I have.  


It's one of those days that stays with you. Older generations in the United States will point to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This generation will point to September 11th. And for those of us who've grown up in the shadows of the Hancock and the Pru, this will be talked about every April 15th.

The next few days were a blur of nervousness, pride, and uncertainty. 17, 565 Bruins fans at the Garden belted out the national anthem during a game against the Buffalo Sabres and chanted "We are Boston" at different intervals during the game. The feelings that I experienced-fear, uncertainly, anger, and sadness-came back when I heard about the gunfight at  MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the madness in Watertown (a suburb just outside Boston). I gave blood a few days later for the first time.

Hearing the news that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody was a weight off all of our shoulders. I remember I was in the library, trying and failing to get an early start on an assignment, and I remember going over to the Newseum the next day to see the front pages documenting the end of the chaos that had gripped Boston for four straight days. It was over. Boston could return to its normally scheduled programming.




One year later, I am not sure what to feel.

I realize that what I've written here could be considered melodramatic, theatrical, or even tacky. And I acknowledge that this probably would be more profound had I been living in Boston. I wanted nothing more here than to recall what happened that day.

Has the Boston Marathon Bombing affected me? I suppose not. The handful of people I learned who ran the marathon were all fine, as I found out in the next few days. It reaffirmed some of the thoughts in the back of my head, but outside the intangible and memory, I don't think my life has changed much because of it. And I believe that is a good thing. Normalcy is often what people want after a crisis.

Of course I'm glad this madness was resolved quickly and decisively. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is, in all likelihood, going to be found guilty and will either face the death penalty or life in prison. I am indifferent to which of these sentences he should receive, as either way he will be removed from society. Life in prison may not seem like enough when you engineered the killing of three innocent people and the injury of another two hundred, but let's not forget that he is barely over twenty. He'll be paying for his crime for decades.

I'm proud of my city. Seeing Bostonians unite behind their city was profound, but I'm curious and a bit wary of how this event is commemorated in the future. "Boston Strong" was a nice catchphrase to unite people and raise money for the hundreds that were injured in the bombing, but I don't think it's prudent to continue to use the phrase. The conflict has been resolved. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was accidentally killed by his brother. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is going to be severely but lawfully punished. If we continue to use that phrase, it will lose its meaning. Remembrance, but with timing.

There will likely be some kind of memorial on Marathon Monday next week, and those who run in the Marathon this year will have an extra gust of wind at their backs. That's a good thing. Build a statue for those who perished in Copley Square, like the one of Red Auerbach in Faneuil Hall or the one of Ted Williams at Fenway Park, or the one of Bobby Orr at the Garden. But don't let this become something that constantly hangs over the city. I have no problem with pride, or remembrance, but if it's done excessively it also will lose its meaning.

I hope one day we pause to remember the names of the ordinary people who lost their lives rather than that now-tarnished name Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We should not forget, but we should also not dwell. We move forward as a community, mindful of what has happened, and excited for our future.

God Bless Boston. 

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