The ear-splitting blast (this time bombs, not planes going into buildings), the shaky video images of bloody people, crying people, terrified people. And again, the responders transformed into superheroes.
Whoever planned this clearly never had the balls to run a race, otherwise they would have known that hundreds of medical professionals would already be deployed for the marathon. Good people will always outnumber and outsmart evil people. Always. (Patton Oswalt articulated this beautifully in his Love Letter to Boston.)
Hands shaking, tears streaming down my cheeks, I rushed to Facebook to check on the safety of the runners from my town who were there.
More tears when I saw the smiling face of my friend’s 6-year-old Ethiopian adopted son waving the flag of his birth country, waiting for the Ethiopian runners to pass (someone commented “He’d better not blink!”).
All were safe. So why was I still a mess?
My own sons were 5 1/2 and 3 years old on 9/11. We live just outside of Washington, D.C. My sister called from Seattle after the first of the Twin Towers was hit in New York. While we were on the phone, the second tower was hit, taking our breath away. A few minutes later, the Pentagon.
Knowing at that point that we were under attack, my sister and I both had the same thought. “Where’s Mark?” she said.
At the time, my husband worked at the CIA. I remembered with relief that he had meetings outside of the building that day, since the “Agency” was an obvious candidate for the next target.
My relief was suddenly cut short. Max was at the CIA daycare center. Shit.
I hung up on my sister and flew to the car (Troy was safe and sound in his Kindergarten class in another part of town).
With NPR giving me a play-by-play as my shaking hands clutched the steering wheel (again, the shaking hands), I tried calling my friend to see if she wanted me to pick up her daughter as well.
No cell phone service–another PTSD trigger yesterday.
I joined the line of cars waiting for clearance onto the complex, hoping to make it in and out before another plane hit, or a bomb hit, or a chemical weapon hit. I craned my neck out the window every few minutes to check the sky.
Finally inside the classroom, I was greeted by my son’s radiant smile. “Hi Mommy! Why are you here?”
“I just thought I’d bring you home early today because I love you so much,” I said as I lifted him into my arms and cradled his silky blond head.
I willed myself to appear calm. I smiled at him. I tried communicating through my eyes alone with the teachers, who were putting on the same act that I was. Mothers in war zones go through these motions all the time, I realized.
In the coming weeks, I heard that some parents were able to block the news from their children. We didn’t have the TV on, but the truth crept in via NPR in the car.
Every night at dinner, one of the boys would ask, “Did they catch him yet?”
Driving past construction sites, “Is that the building that the airplanes flew into?”
And the ultimate mortification, finding myself in a debate with my three-year-old son about the correct pronunciation of Osama Bin Laden.
“No Mommy,” Max insisted, “it’s Sambiladan.”
“No dear,” I said, “it’s O-SAMA…Bin…Laden.”
“No Mommy, it’s Sambiladen.”
It was enough to drive me to go out and buy a puppy–the ultimate distraction.
Along with the flashbacks, my own life in the present moment brought painful feelings of empathy.
I had recently run my first big organized race. It was only 5 miles, vs. 26.2 miles, but I knew what it felt like to train, plan, draw from the energy of the crowd on race day and feel absolutely elated at the end of it. For the Boston Marathon, those feelings would be magnified a hundred times over. Until the final mile yesterday.
And as the reports of the deaths and injuries rolled in, all I could do was go back out in the garden and dig furiously. I had been rejoicing all day that my body was strong enough to garden, after that strength was sucked out of me in 2009, my breast cancer year. I could lift shrubs, move soil, and roll a heavy wheelbarrow up a hill. My body was my own again.
But runners lost their legs yesterday. And children lost their innocence. And an 8-year-old was killed and a 3-year-old was among the throngs of injured.
And all I can fall back on is something Mahatma Gandhi once said:
“Remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS.”
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