On Monday morning I was pressed up against the bodies of strangers as we gathered to watch marathoners preform feats of physical and emotional strength that I marvel at. Moments earlier as we joined the crowds my friend commented on how much she loved Marathon Day. This day was more than a celebration of athletic prowess, it was also a celebration of community and the way in which we come together. Four hours later our joy became horror.
I learned of the news as I was leaving my sister’s dorm, just over half a mile from Copley Square. Once again I was in a crowd of strangers. Now we were joined together in silence with our attention focused on the televisions in the dorm lobby. My desire to get out of Boston pushed me out of the dorm and onto Boylston Street in an attempt to reach my bus at South Station. The crowd I joined on the streets was louder than the one I’d just left. All previous feeling of joy and community and kinship and unity felt fractured as every stranger became a potential assailant.
Hearing the stories of the courageous acts that followed the explosions has helped to remind me of the kindness that exists in humanity. In my area of Boston there were no great acts that could make the headlines. The streets that I hurried down were filled with people who had been evacuated from the local metro lines, marathoners wrapped in their foil blankets, folk hearing the news on their cellphones. We were in the middle-ground, too far away to have been immediate victims but too close to be pure observers.
9/11 happened when I was in third grade and of all the days from elementary school that one is one of the, if not the, clearest day in my memory. My memory starts with our teacher telling us that a plane had crashed in New York City and until I could speak with my parents all I thought about was my family just across the river in Brooklyn. That was the closest I ever came to being personally affected by a violent tragedy of any sort. Until Boston.
Even when I was out of the city and on my bus back to quiet Amherst I thought of my friends and family in and around the city. As I scanned through The Huffington Post every few hours over the past week I was looking for streets, towns, places that I was familiar with. It turns out that I was lucky in that no one I knew was hurt. On Friday night a relative could hear gunfire from the direction of Watertown and it seems that this was the closest my loved ones came to the truly sad events that began Monday afternoon.
I will never presume to say that I was intimately impacted by what happened in Boston. I’m not a resident, I didn’t know anyone racing, I wasn’t near the finish line, etc. However this was the closest I’ve been to terror, to violence, since September 11th. I may play myself off as a curmudgeon who has a Vulcan attitude towards emotions but the truth is that I’m an empathetic person and I’ve always assumed that because of my empathy I’ve been able to empathize for the victims of acts like this one. Now I don’t believe that. What I felt as I walked down Boylston Street, the fear, the anger, the desire to sit down and sob, was like nothing I’ve ever imagined, let alone experienced, in my life. When I think of the people who were more intimately connected to the bombings and the manhunt I find myself entirely incapable of understanding their emotions.
There’s been a lot of good writing over the past few days and one of my favorite pieces was written by a close friend of mine on the importance of empathy. In a slightly similar note several people have taken this opportunity to remind us that in some areas of the world bombs are a daily fact of life. In response some of said that these people need to wait, need to step back and let people heal before saying things like this. While I think that there’s a place for kindness and healing I think that using what happened to remind us of the frequent acts of violence in foreign parts of the world is appropriate.
I’m still dealing with my emotional aftereffects from Monday but what I can’t let go of is the idea that for some people the emotions that I experienced are commonplace. For me this could easily be a once in a my lifetime event but the fact that there are people out there who will be, have been, are being exposed to such events regularly is a fact that I cannot bare. I cannot bare that what I experienced as an atypical, unusual, truly frightening day could be just another day for some.
There’s a need for self-care and for healing. Sometimes we need to turn off the news and drink tea while reading a thick book. Sometimes we just can’t read another article about children dying in explosions. Sometimes for the sake of our mental health we have to go a day without acknowledging the fear that exists in our world. The thing is that we shouldn’t hide behind self-care and ignore the brutalities forever. I am entirely guilty of turning off the radio when another report comes on about bombings in distant cities and then soothing myself by saying that it’s for my own mental self-care when in reality it’s because I want to live in bliss.
Not any more.
Yes, when my depression is bringing me to new lows I will refuse to open my daily New York Times e-mail but I will not let myself pretend that my depression is an excuse to be blind.
What happened to me was a reminder. It was a reminder of my safety and of my privilege. It was a reminder that children and adults face bombs, violence, terror on a regular basis and that such a thing is abhorrent. My peaceful life was rattled on Monday and it was a reminder I can’t allow myself to hide in ignorance.
What happened to me was a reminder that there is work to be done.