Marathon Monday 2013 was, for me, just like any other day. I live thirteen miles outside Boston, Massachusetts. We are not runners, in my family – we are devout walkers, sitters and loungers, even. We enjoy the marathon by radio or television, as it occurs on an average workday, for most of us. I am often not at home on Marathon Monday, but if I am, I have it on the television and watch it as I pass from room to room.
The Red Sox always play a game on the same day, and many people enjoy attending the baseball game and then going over to Boylston Street to watch the finish of the race (as much as they can see; even being three-deep in the wrong spot is fun.) I have friends who have run the marathon and I always puzzle over their steely determination – why are they doing this? Why are they going through the blisters, the muscle pulls, the exhaustion, the running alone at dawn? Why this goal? I have never understood it — until this year.
On Marathon Monday 2013 I was at home and had the television on downstairs, but was working in my upstairs office. My cell phone rang. “Turn on the TV,” my husband said. “Something has happened at the Marathon. An explosion or something.”
My heart hammered in my chest; my twenty-three year old son Matthew was working in Boston. He was in an office in the financial district. As I hurried to the television I scoured my memory banks: what was the route of the marathon? Did they even go near the financial district? Where were my other sons? I ran through our schedule frantically; everyone should be safe – except Matt.
I stood in front of the television set, horrified by what I was seeing, as I tried to reach Matt on the phone. My call could not go through, a crisp, professional, recorded voice told me. I watched on the screen as a scene of pure chaos unfolded – a wall of smoke, runners with their numbers still on their backs running around in confusion and shock, multiple red emergency vehicles on the scene, lights flashing. I tried Matt’s phone over and over again with increasingly trembling fingers – was that blood on TV, on the sidewalk downtown, the same sidewalk I have been on many times? What happened down there, and where was Matt – why couldn’t I reach him?
My phone rang, and it was my husband on the line. “A bomb exploded down there, they think,” I said to him tersely. “I can’t get Matt.” My husband said, “He’s alright, honey, they don’t run near where he is,” but his voice seemed unsteady, and far away. What if Matt had strolled down, just to watch runners come in, just to be a part of the fun and excitement that Marathon Monday always brings? That would be like him.
My phone rang again – it was Matt; my Matt. Tears welled in my eyes. Soon my heart was hammering again – Matt’s girlfriend Alexa had gone into town to watch the race and had been headed for the finish line with friends, to cheer on the runners.
“Mom, I can’t get her on the phone,” he said in a quavering voice.
“It’s alright, I said, like a robot, a mechanical thing. “She is fine, I just know it.”
Just then his phone beeped, signaling another call; it was Alexa, and she had been instructed by police to run as fast as she could away from the smoke and chaos, and she and a small ocean of spectators became runners themselves, carrying purses and backpacks, wearing Red Sox caps and tee shirts, in sneakers and sandals – everyone ran for their very lives.
Some couldn’t run for their lives. Three died, including a child; 264 were injured. Many lost their legs, some were burned terribly. Multiple surgeries, pain beyond measure, and changed lives resulted from the bombings. We became, on that day, like other countries that we see on television, and pity – the brutal, instantaneous horror of a bomb blast, smoke in the streets, people running to and from danger, people bleeding and dying in the streets. This was Boston? Our Boston?
There is a ripple of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) that reaches outward from the scene of a tragedy and affects even those not immediately impacted, those who were watching on television, those who live in town, and those who love to run. Others, not hurt physically in the bombing, dealt with anxiety, fear, and overwhelming sadness.
This is terror – causing a whole populace to be on edge, to be frightened, well into the future. To change. Terror seeks to change us.
There is only one answer, and Boston learned it quickly – rise in the face of it. Love each other, give to each other, risk for each other. Believe that those who ran toward the blasts represent a stronger part of ourselves that terror can never really reach. It is a mysterious, eternal part of who we are. How many arms held loved ones extra tightly that night? How many texts reading I love you were sent? That is our answer.
This year I will watch the Boston Marathon at home again, like I have for so many years. I won’t work – I will sit and watch, cheering on the runners, and feeling victorious in their victory – a finish line crossed, a city turning inward to support not only its own, but anyone at all who wants to join in with us. All are welcome.
Screw you, terrorists. Screw you for what you did to us – for the pain, the loss, the anxious parents, the frightened children, lovers and friends. Watch us now, because we are back, and we aren’t going anywhere. That is the simple and enduring message of two words that now mean a whole lot to us, and to a country that continues to have our backs: Boston Strong.
The Boston Marathon will be run April 21, the Third Monday of April.
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Deirdre Reilly has written one humor book, and authored a syndicated family life column for Gatehouse Media for 13 years. She has won a Massachusetts Press Award for humor, her op-eds have been published in the Boston Herald and The Hartford Courant, and she has had short fiction published in literary journals. Deirdre was raised in Columbia, Md., and now lives outside Boston, Ma. She enjoys outdoor pursuits, and is obsessed with the care and happiness of a retired carriage horse named Nello that she bought for a few hundred dollars on a menopausal whim.