A year ago today, I was at my first Boston Marathon with my sister. I loved it. I love races: running them, watching them, the whole thing. If it had been up to me, I would have stayed the enitre day. We watched periodically. We went into some shops on Newbury and on Boylston. I remember wanting to go into different places or spend more time, but deciding against it. We were supposed to have hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s again (because soooo good!). But instead, we made a quick stop and continued on, making our way past the crowds, past the finish line, and on to pick up my niece.
Yup. We walked past the finish line. Forty-five minutes later, we were walking back to my sister’s apartment when we heard what my niece thought sounded “like thunder.” I’ll never forget even where we were when we heard it. It was a perfectly clear, sunny day. Thunder? Weird. We were already in Cambridge and had no idea what was going on.
And then the texts started to come in from friends: “Are you okay?” “Aren’t you in Boston?” At first, I didn’t know what was happening until finally someone told me. We turned on the TV and there was the smoke-filled finish line. The rest of the day, I was flooded with messages of love from all over the country. (Thank you, friends.)
Most of what I remember next is just trying to stay calm, mostly for my niece’s sake. And sirens. It isn’t accurate, but it felt like the whole city was full of sirens. We went on with the evening sort of as if it wasn’t happening. We went to the craft store down the street. We went to dinner in Harvard Square. We exchanged pleasantries with our waiter, who admitted that he was pretty scared. Weren’t we all? What did we even know about details then?
I flew home the next day. Homeland security officers were walking around Boston Logan talking to anyone wearing a marathon related item. I don’t remember too much of that week until the morning of the manhunt. My sister, her family, and her city were in lockdown. I went into work late.
A week after the marathon, I was in a car accident. It wasn’t major, but it messed up my neck and shoulders for a little while. Four days later, I put in my two weeks notice at work. The universe had taken moderate attempts at my life twice in a week. Whatever I was hoping to do, I should probably just do it.
In the aftermath of the marathon, I’ve had some trouble. It isn’t every day that you are so close to that kind of situation. But I wasn’t a victim, not really. We weren’t there when it happened. We had walked away from that finish line with plenty of time beforehand. But I think a lot about the decisions I made that didn’t put us there at the time of the bombing. I can probably remember all of them. I wonder if we walked by one of the bombers and never knew. I think about how grateful I am that my niece wasn’t with us. Who knows what our time frame would have been then? I’ve had some trouble being in close quarters with large groups since: concerts, crowded restaurants or bars. I start to imagine what it would be like if a bomb went off. Sirens freaked me out for a long time. Even now, I see mysterious bags and think “that could be a bomb.”
I’ve been on my “life sabbatical” since the beginning of last May, less than a month after the bombing. I’ve traveled, I’ve almost finished school, I’ve taken on a lot of new challenges. It’s weird to say I’m grateful for the tragedy, but I am in a way. I have made important decisions and experienced amazing things since then.
This year, I’ll be back at the marathon with my sister. I have a friend running it, who has worked so hard to get there. I’m excited to cheer for her and all the other runners. I can’t say I’m not emotional at the thought of being there. But I’m not scared. I’m so happy that I get to be there again.
Things happen fast. You never know how close you are to something life changing or threatening. But that isn’t a reason to be scared. It’s a reason to do all the things you love and stop doing the things that aren’t doing you any good. What did I learn from the Boston Marathon? Life is too short and too precious. Run whatever your race is with all your heart and love every minute, even the hard miles when you think you can’t go any further.
See you again in a few days, Boston.