I’ve been trying to write this blog post for a week. A deadline has come and gone, and another one is fast approaching. I’ve been overwhelmed by this week and a half, by the regular insanity of life, by my to-do list, trying to figure out how to handle and process the waves of emotions that have gripped me like a tide, encompassing me from time to time as I remember what this week has involved, fading as I get wrapped up with daily life, returning as I see the images and hear the stories that have become inextricably tied to the Boston Marathon. I could write a hundred blog posts about this week, and I’ve written and rewritten many of them, but we’ll go with this one.
The last nine days in Boston have been absolutely surreal. First there was Monday — I’ll get to that later. I woke up on Tuesday, in disbelief that Monday had happened, and that I had to pretend everything was normal and go to class. It was an entirely unproductive day. On Wednesday and Thursday, it took all of my physical will to get out of bed and go to classes and work. I felt emotionally drained. Thursday night rolled around. Just after Sean Collier was pronounced dead, I fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, my entire world seemed to have been changed irrevocably–for the second time in a week. A shootout, more deaths, the worst cabin fever I could’ve imagined. Friday was certainly the longest day of my life, and probably the most bizarre. I tried repeatedly to turn off the news, but someone would call asking if I’d heard about the latest development, and I couldn’t stay away. The days since have been emotional, as more and more details have emerged about the bombing, the suspects, et cetera.
But through the midst of the horror that gripped our city for what felt like much longer than a week, and that will be in our minds for many more years to come, I have been completely floored by the outpouring of love and solidarity that Boston has shown, and that the rest of the world has shown for Boston. I admit, I may have flooded my social media accounts with these stories. Whether that’s a note from the Chicago Tribune to the Globe, the resiliency of Dunkin Donuts, the way Obama made this tragedy personal with his description of the Boston people, the tireless work of medical professionals across the city, messages of hope from countries that feel Boston’s pain every day, soldiers who had just finished the Tough Ruck (the 26.2 mile march in fatigues with a 40lb pack on their back) and jumped into the midst of the finish line wreckage to help survivors, my own coworker, an Athletic Training major who was working at the medical tent and became a first responder, messages broadcast on the MBTA buses this week, or, last but not least, Yankees fans singing “Sweet Caroline,” Fenway’s anthem — each of these stories made me feel that, no matter how terrified we may have felt for a few hours that Monday afternoon, there is a resiliency in our people, a will to overcome, and a fabric of community in Boston that may not always be this tangible, but is very, very real.
I was privileged enough to have direct contact with that deeply gratifying sense of Boston community during this past week. On Monday night, a friend involved with a campus RHA asked if I could help him organize chaplains in the residence halls. I called Brother Larry right away. Before I could get a word in edgewise, he asked me to come to the chapel. ”We have people,” I remember him saying. I didn’t really know what to expect. Grieving people? Hurt people? Shocked people? Throngs of people? At this point it was around 5:30 — just a couple of hours after the bombs went off. All of my friends seemed to be accounted for. But I was still totally in shock. I was so cold I was shivering, even though it was beautifully sunny outside. I changed my clothes before I left for Marsh so I would look more professional. On a day like this? How ridiculous. I put on my puffy grey vest. My favorite item of clothing.
At Marsh, the people gathering were mostly runners who had been turned back before they reached Kenmore, when the race had been closed. Most were cut off from their families, and their belongings were at the BAA — downtown and inaccessible. They were mostly in good spirits, a bit tired and cold but still talking and laughing every now and then. Shortly after I arrived, a group of three middle-aged women came in. They hadn’t been able to finish the race, and between the three of them had only gotten ahold of once space tent. They sat down in the nave, and Jan Hill asked if they needed water. They spotted a diet soda, and asked for that, instead — didn’t want to get a tummy ache. They needed to get in touch with their friends so they could get a ride home to Worcester, so I lent them my phone, which at this point was almost dead because I had been relentlessly checking the news for several hours. One of the three women started to get really cold. Someone gave her a sweatshirt for her arms, and I offered my beloved vest for her lap, with my debit card, ID’s, and keys still in the pockets. At that point I started wandering around the Chapel somewhat aimlessly, looking to charge my phone and help out anywhere else I could. There wasn’t much else I could do, so I went back to the nave. The three Worcester ladies were making jokes – I don’t remember what about – and laughing and chatting. Something about that made me breathe a little easier. If these women who had just run twenty five miles, only to be cut off with the news of the bombing, cut off from their belongings, their loved ones, and the coveted finish line, and still smile, surely I could carry on as well. They used my phone to call a friend. I wandered off again. I came back upstairs, and they were gone. My vest was carefully hung over the end of a pew. Other runners were still coming in, and we filled water cups and helped them call family or cabs and gave them somewhere to sit and pointed them to the restrooms.
A little over an hour after I got to Marsh, Soren told me that all students were being advised to stay in their dorms. I asked to go home, and, relieved of my duties for the night, emotion took hold for the first time. I couldn’t catch my breath, and started to cry. What was happening? This beautiful, beautiful city that I loved had been attacked. Rumors were flying about more bombs being found across the city. It felt a bit like we were under siege. I went home, talked for hours with my friends about was happening, calling my parents every thirty minutes.
On Tuesday, I got a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. ”Is this Emma? The girl from the church?” Yes, it’s me. It was one of the 50-something runner ladies. ”Thank you for what you did for us.” What? Me? I barely remembered Monday night. I just remembered the relief I felt when three marathoners showed me what Boston resiliency looked like. Later that day, I got a Facebook message from one of the other ladies. I’ll post it here to prove something–not that I think I did anything great on Marathon Monday, because the people who did were several miles away at Copley Square, at the hospitals, in the law enforcement departments–I was just a lost girl at work. But the relationship that started that day with these women goes to show that there is never an act of kindness too small. I almost didn’t take off my vest. I was cold too. I almost didn’t let them use my phone, because I wanted to charge it so I could connect with my parents and loved ones. But I did, because they breathed reassurance and relief back into my life, and I wanted to do anything for them that I could. This tragedy brought out a million acts of kindness between Bostonians. These messages were acts of kindness that affirmed my interest in ministry, my belief in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, in loving others as we were–are–loved. I’m not sure if any of this has made any sense, but I hope it’s clear that I continue to be touched and amazed by the community — sometimes invisible — that I’m a part of, and the way that it has gelled and surged this week in the face of adversity.
“Hi Emma this is Shari I was one of the girls you helped. I want to thank you so much for everything you did for us. We felt so comfortable at the church we had everything we needed and such great people with us. With all the bad in this world it’s so good to know all the good still stands strong. Thanks again. [We are] so happy you were all there for us. All the people in that chapel opened their hearts to us and we will never forget it, thank you all for making a very sad day turn into a great experience.”