As I sit down to write my weekly blog post for Marsh, there is only one thing I can think of to write about. The thing that is heavy in the air in Boston today. The explosions at the Marathon.
I had been in New York for the weekend, visiting grad schools. As Evan and I had been taking the subway earlier that morning under Manhattan, we had started to talk about how New York City was just a little too cold, a little too unfriendly for us. How we love the vivacity and colorfulness of Boston. Hey, everyone might not be friendly that way I am used to in the South, but in Boston, they’ll curse you out with vigor and be your best friend if the Red Sox win.
There is a boisterous joy for life in Boston, from the way we celebrate our sports teams’ victories to the crazy way the Massholes drive. It’s slightly irreverent (our favorite Catholic feast day is the one where we drink Guinness and deck ourselves out in green, after all) and rebellious (anyone remember the Boston Tea Party?), but it’s also strong and uniting.
Marathon Monday is one of those days where that spirit is particularly strong. You wander into the streets, pressed against strangers who are suddenly friends, cheering on the runners and squeezing to get to the front, so close you could reach out and touch them. The atmosphere is boozy and loud, but it’s welcoming. You don’t care if you get separated from the people you came with, because it’s just as exhilarating to cheer along with strangers as with those you know.
I was sad that I was missing Marathon Monday this year. It had been the only long weekend when I could get down to New York to visit schools, but I read jealously the excited statuses of all my friends back in Boston on that Monday morning. I’d gone to see the Marathon all the other years I’d been in Boston, and this was my first time away.
I found out about the tragedy on our bus back to New York. It boarded at the same time as the first explosion. The bus passengers were frantic as we began to move, grabbing snatches of news from people across the aisle. Those with smartphones and internet access were questioned desperately by others for news. Rumors floated between the seats. Phone calls begin to pour in from people checking to see if their loved ones were okay.
My family members kept calling, relieved to find that I hadn’t been in the city. Meanwhile I tried to get in touch with my friends via email and Facebook to see if they were alright (phone service was down in Boston). I read article after article and tweet after tweet as more horrific details and images appeared.
Finally, I just cried, watching the New York City skyline fade into the background, the almost-finished Freedom Tower rising from the site of Ground Zero.
When we got back, South Station was strangely empty. We walked down the stairs into the T station for the Red Line. It was quiet, haunted. Armed policemen were our only company while we waited for the train.
And then it came, and we got on, and I melted into the comfort of being back again, of the familiar sounds of the MBTA. We had just been in New York, with its big trains and blinking lights that announce where the next stop is. But we were back in Boston now, with the plaintive squeaking of the Green Line when it takes a corner and the dinging bells that sound before the doors are about to shut. I closed my eyes and listened hard and tried not to cry at how familiar it was.
But when we passed through Copley, I couldn’t help it. The tears started to come as the automatic voice announced “Copley” over the intercom. We slowed down but didn’t stop. The lights were off in the station, but you could see the glint of the wall tiles and the shadowy signs as we passed. And all I could think of was that right above our heads, through a few layers of soil and steel and pavement, it had happened.
It had happened on the same sidewalks where I had walked a few days ago, touring a visiting friend around Copley Square proudly. On the same sidewalks where one of my closest friends had been standing an hour before the explosion happened. On the same sidewalks which, in pictures I had just seen while scrolling through news articles, were now covered in blood.
Spring had just come to Boston. We were just starting to remember, after a snowy and miserable winter, why we loved this city so much. The trees were blooming; the sun was finally warming the ground. And it was Marathon Monday, with its buzzing energy that someone who has never experienced in Boston can never understand.
When I got back to the apartment, I locked myself in the bathroom for awhile. I needed the catharsis of some shoulder-wracking sobs. I cried for the victims and for their families. I cried for the ones who saw such horrors happen. I cried for all the Bostonians that no longer would feel safe in their city. I cried for a Patriot’s Day that would be irrevocably changed.
Finally I came to a point where the tears subsided, and then I prayed, stumbling over words, my hands clasped and my forehead pressed to the cool bathroom wall.
My prayer was for the next day, and the days after that. For warmer afternoons and more flowers and people spread out on the Commons in the sunlight. For cheers filling Fenway under bright lights and the crack of baseballs against a bat. For sunsets glinting gold off the Statehouse and church bells tolling the hours on Park Street. For strolls through the North End and cannolis from Mike’s. For cramming into the T during rush hour as the trains creak through the tunnels.
For cheering on the runners at next year’s Marathon.
For joy instead of fear, and life as it can only happen in Boston.
That–my city, my people, my friends–was my prayer, and it still is today.