Regrowth: Thoughts on the Boston Marathon, One Year Later

Exactly one year ago today, which was 7 days after the Boston Marathon bombing and 3 days after the terrorist responsible was caught, I wrote a post called Reclamation describing my experience of the attack and the harrowing days that followed.  This post is my follow-up to that one.

Every year on April 19th, a 21 gun salute takes place at dawn at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, the site of the Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  The salute commemorates the anniversary of the 1775 battle that began the Revolutionary War and eventually led to the birth of our United States of America.
 photo MarathonWeekend005_zpsf18f7ee9.jpgThough it was a very early wakeup call for a Saturday morning, H and I managed to make it over to the Bridge to take in the ceremony this past weekend.
 photo MarathonWeekend006_zpsc35a1178.jpgDuring the benediction and reading of accounts of April 19, 1775, I found my mind wandering back to April 19th of last year, the day of one of the largest manhunts in history.  It was in our car around 5:30 in the morning, on our way over to the North Bridge that H and I first learned that one bomber was dead and that the other was being heatedly pursued by the authorities.  It was somewhat eerie to be standing there in the cold dawn, saluting the flag in memory of one of the earliest expressions of American freedom, while a few miles away the hunt was on to overtake the latest incarnation of someone trying to take it away.

I still find myself in awe sometimes of the fact that the bomber was actually caught.  The sheer courage and tenacity of the local, state, and federal authorities in pursuing him evokes in me a deep sense of patriotism and pride.
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After the Dawn Salute on Saturday, it was time to face the fact that only two days remained until I was going to go back to the Marathon.

Obviously, staying home was never an option.  Doing so would feel too much like giving in and letting the terrorists win.  And of course, I knew that security was going to be insanely tight.  Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some reservations about going into the city yesterday for the Marathon.

But go I did, and spent the day by Fenway, just before the 40K mark.  It was a great spot to see Rita Jeptoo pass by in a flash on her way to breaking the woman’s course record. photo MarathonWeekend019_zps3922bcaa.jpgAnd of course, Meb!!  Check me out on TV cheering him on (I’m the one in the white coat just to the left of center screen!): photo MarathonWeekend023_zps49d3b43b.jpgFor the next several hours after the lead runners came through, I stayed outside to watch and encourage thousands upon thousands of runners as they went by.  During that time, I vacillated between ecstatic moments of cheering and high fiving the runners, and moments where I became silent and had to force myself to take deep breaths because I was becoming overly emotional.  I’m not sure exactly how to describe the emotion; it was sort of a mix of deep sadness about what happened last year, and anger at the fact that someone actually tried to spoil this day for all time.

Well, it definitely isn’t spoiled.  But…it also isn’t quite the same.

As with every Marathon Monday, the city, and the tens of thousands of people who came out to enjoy it, was in great spirits yesterday.  But the reminders of the terrible tragedy of last year were everywhere…in the quadruply aggressive police presence (compared to other years), in the security checkpoints stationed all around, in the National Guardsmen who ran without their traditional backpacks (no packs whatsoever were allowed), in the omnipresent signs and t-shirts bearing the slogans “Boston Strong” and “No more hurting people.”

I’m not sure one year is enough time to allow for the necessary level of recovery and regrowth after something like the Marathon bombing.  I’m not sure that any amount of time will truly be enough.  What’s important is that there are signs of growth and healing all around us if we can only remember to look for them.
 photo MarathonWeekend014_zpscb5b3064.jpgNo more hurting people.  Peace.



I’ve been struggling with how to start this post and what to write, and after all the struggle I’ve come up empty.  So I’m just going to jump right in and you’ll have to forgive me if anything seems disjointed or irreverent.  [There is food at the end of the post, to avoid offending any who might be turned off by an off-topic blog post.]

Last Monday, exactly one week ago, was Patriots’ Day/Marathon Monday here in Massachusetts, a state holiday.  As a state employee, I had the day off, and so I kissed my privately-employed husband goodbye as he headed to work and then traveled into Boston on my own to take in some of the festivities surrounding the city’s best day.

I had loose plans to meet up with a friend or two, but I’m also the kind of person who’s completely satisfied with her own company, plus everyone is in a good mood on Marathon Monday and in the five years I have been involved in its celebration I have yet to not make a new friend, or several.  I strolled around Fenway for a while, contemplated buying a ticket to the morning Sox game but decided against it, walked down to Kenmore Square to watch the first wheelchair racers coming through, walked back up to Boston Beer Works to take in the first couple of innings of the game, then left and began what I figured would be a stroll that would ultimately end up at the finish line.

I stopped on Comm Ave. somewhere between Miles 25 and 26, where I happened to notice a street-side gap in the sea of spectators.  There, I made friends with the people around me, who were from France, Texas, Guyana, you name it, and especially with one lady from Georgia, who was in town to watch her husband and a friend run in the crown jewel of all marathons.  We had a blast cheering for runners, snapping photos, and high-fiving all of the servicemen and women who marched past us.  She gushed to me about how much she and her husband loved Boston, what a beautiful city it is, how friendly everyone had been, how amazing and encouraging the atmosphere is along the entire length of the race.

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That’s Marathon Monday.  It is a day like no other.  It is a day when everyone is happy, everyone is friends, everyone loves America and supports their fellow human beings.

Eventually my new friend and I parted ways with hugs and smiles, and I continued my journey down the marathon route, toward the finish line.  It was just about or slightly after 2:00 by this point, and after a few hours of standing and cheering, I was in the mood to sit down and relax for a bit.  I figured it might be fun to post up at one of the bars along Boylston Street where I would be able to see people running down the homestretch of the marathon.

To say it was crowded over there would be the understatement of the year.  The sidewalks were thronged with spectators and all of the bars and restaurants were full to capacity with lines out the door.  It wasn’t anything more than I had expected, but once I was in the vicinity of the finish line, I decided I wasn’t so into the idea of waiting in a line by myself, so I set out to go further downtown, away from the crowds.

On my way there, I saw scores of runners who had already finished, wrapped in foil and smiling broadly as they strolled the streets around the Prudential Center.  I passed police officers who kindly held up traffic to allow runners to cross the street, smiling and saying things like, “You’ve run enough today! Take your time.”  I walked by bars with clapboard signs outside advertising that they were serving Samuel Adams’ 26.2 Brew and inviting runners and their families in for a cold beer and an appetizer on the house.

By the time I reached my destination, a small, very out-of-the-way pub downtown, I was feeling totally content with my day and, as always, full of love for the city.  I sat at the bar and ordered a drink.  Just as I finished paying, I got a frantic phone call from H.  “Are you okay?!?”  “I’m fine…” I began.  This is when I found out that two bombs had just been detonated at the finish line of the marathon, the second one on the corner where I had been standing no more than 15 or 20 minutes earlier.

All I could think about was my friend from Georgia.  Not being familiar with Boston, it would only be natural for her and her group to meet up at some landmark at or near the finish line.  I was haunted by the fact that I would have no way of knowing her fate.

I left the pub and made a beeline for North Station to get on the train and get out of the city.  Outside there was just a cacophony of sirens.  As I ran past bars and restaurants, I saw people huddled around TV’s, shock and awe etched across their faces.  At the train station, there was utter calm, which terrified me more than anything had up to that point.  There were no police, no dogs, nothing.  It was about 3:40 and there was no guarantee that more explosions were not imminent.  I got on the train and prayed furiously that it would leave as I fielded dozens of text messages from concerned family and friends.

The rest of the week went by in a blur.  A mind-numbing, nauseous blur.  I still feel cold all over as I’m writing this a week later.  And I still don’t know what I really want to or can say about it all.

Wednesday night we went into Boston to attend the Bruins game.  On the ride in, I could physically feel the tension of the city closing in on me.  I was nervous and unhappy.  I enjoyed the game, and was moved to be one of the 18,000 voices singing the National Anthem in unison.  I tried to smile, but things still didn’t feel quite right.

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Friday was the worst day.  H and I do not live in a town that was locked down, nor do either of us work in such a place.  It felt so weird and wrong, going to work and knowing that, a ten minute drive away, a force of thousands pursued a suspected terrorist despite immediate and lethal danger. I was disturbed not just by how imminent that danger was, but for how long it was imminent.  Following that manhunt was so incredibly terrifying, exhausting, and psychologically draining for us all.

When I left work on Friday, they still hadn’t caught the guy.  This terrified me.  With that much time elapsed, if he had managed to slip the net despite all of that police force and had been traveling all day on foot, it was entirely possible that he could have reached the suburban areas outside of the lockdown zone, including my town.  I wish I could tell you that I wasn’t frightened and that I didn’t go into my house, draw all the blinds, and lock all the doors and windows, but I was, and I did.  That may have been the worst part.  I felt like my terror meant that, despite everything, those bombers had won.  It was sickening.

Friday night, when it was FINALLY over, I felt nothing.  Because it’s not over, not at all.  So many people are still in the hospital.  Krystle Campbell’s funeral is today. Families have been destroyed.  Marathon Monday will happen again, of course.  It’ll be bigger than ever, most likely.  But it will never be the same.

On Saturday, I didn’t feel like doing anything, really.  H and I went for a run and then I made brunch for us.  This was my first attempt at reclamation of some shred of normalcy.

I made Fettle Vegan’s Corned Bean Hash (recipe here) as well as Isa Chandra’s Perfect Pancakes, featured in both Vegan Brunch and Vegan with a Vengeance.  We ate these with maple syrup that we bought in Vermont last month, when it had literally just been bottled, such that the jug was hot to the touch.

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I really highly recommend both of these recipes.  I am not a big believer in “comfort food” in the sense of eating to make oneself feel better, but in this particular case, the comfort was absolutely there.  The hash makes a great dinner too.  I actually made it for the first time on Thursday night for dinner (because I had a potato that was screaming SOS) and repeated it for brunch Saturday because I loved it so much.

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Served with collard greens that were steamed and then dressed up with a little garlic salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a squeeze of lemon juice:

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The postscript to this story is that I got a text message from my Georgia friend on Tuesday morning wanting to make sure I was okay.  I was so thankful to hear from her and expressed my apologies that her visit to Boston had been marred in such a hideous way.  She responded as follows: “We love Boston and we will come back! We will not let this horrible tragedy keep us away.  Praying for your beautiful city.”

And that, rather than the t-shirts and the chanting and the countless reassurances from politicians, is how I know that we will go on.

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