I live in the Fenway area, about a mile and a half from the Boston Marathon finish line. I was safe at home yesterday when the bombs went off. I heard sirens, but with a major hospital complex right down the street, I thought nothing of it.
Then my phone lit up with inquiries from family and friends. Then my boyfriend turned on the TV and hollered at me to call my friend who lives downtown. Then I saw the first shaky video clips.
My initial reaction was horror. How could it be anything else? I joined the frantic texting/social media frenzy to account for my friends. I prayed. The news was a loop of fragmented, terrible details. Two dead. Twenty-two injured. Then 50. Then 75. One hundred.
Other thoughts filtered in. I hope the attacker isn’t a veteran; I hope it’s not a new poster boy (or girl) for PTSD.
I hope it’s not an extremist who reinforces hateful stereotypes.
I hope the bastard is brought to justice.
I thought I was done with war zones.
As a bystander in a situation like this, I think in some ways it’s easier to be a veteran. Not easy, by any means, not un-affecting—especially for those whose trauma symptoms are triggered. But, unfortunately, it’s something we’re familiar with. We’ve been involved in attacks, whether directly or on the fringes. We’ve been through planning and exercises.
We’ve carried that burden, taken that risk, in hopes that others won’t have to; that this will be a safe place to return home; that citizens will not have to live in fear; that children can watch their parents run 26.2 miles on a beautiful spring day.
I thought of the marathon I ran in Houston in 2009—masochistically wonderful and peaceful and inspiring. I thought of watching my sister run Coeur d'Alene last year, my two-year-old niece jogging along on the sidelines. I thought of the fear in the eyes of the Afghan children I met; a necessary, deep-seeded complex no child should have to endure.
Yesterday, more than fear I felt completely helpless. I wasn’t downtown to help and couldn’t get there if I tried. Because I’ve “lived” in an area with a prevalence of certain diseases, I can’t even donate blood.
So I ate a bunch of junk food. I hugged my boyfriend and snuggled with my cat. I watched something funny on TV.
And I wondered if I had been there, what would I have done? When my fight or flight reflexes kicked in, which would win? I don’t blame those who ran away—self-preservation is a logical and natural human reaction, and probably saved lives yesterday, not to mention alleviated mass confusion. But as a veteran, as someone with training and experience, would I join them?
Or would I be one of the hundreds who ran toward the scene? Would I help clear debris and carry victims to safety? Would I use my combat lifesaver training to render emergency first aid? Would I offer soothing words and a hand to hold?
I hope if I were there I would stay.
I hope I never have to find out.
RIP to those who lost their lives in this senseless attack. May victims and family members find comfort and healing—physically and emotionally.
Thanks to the first responders, medical and security personnel, K-9 units, blood donors, and those around the city and across the nation who’ve offered thoughts and prayers of support. You have shown that tragedies like this unify us and make us stronger.
May we hold onto unity and love long after the wounds begin to heal.