Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Boston Strong

Up until a year ago, April 15th meant one thing to me: Tax Day.

Growing up as the daughter of two accountants, it was a day filled with clients' cars filling our driveway, the doorbell and phone both constantly ringing and last minute trips to the post office.  The day always ended in joy and a tired relief that we'd gotten through yet another tax season.  One year when I was younger, Mom and Dad took Jeremy and I with them on their late night trip to the post office.  On the way home, we stopped at Denny's to celebrate with desserts.

A year ago, April 15th changed forever.

On April 15, 2013, I woke up to another Monday.  Another Patriot's Day celebrated only in Maine and Massachusetts.  Another Tax Day for the rest of the country.  Another "extra" day for my parents to complete taxes.  

I went about my day cleaning and organizing our house after our move from the suburbs of Boston to Southern Maine.  My mind was with my parents and tax season ending. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I went online to check my email and play around on Facebook for a few minutes.  What happened after that shook me to the core. There had been a bombing at the end of the Boston Marathon.

As most of you know, I went to college in downtown Boston.  It's where Eliot and I met. Where I lived for almost 10 years.  Where I'd probably still be living if Eliot hadn't gotten his job here.  Naturally, we have many friends from college who still live in Boston. Thus, I found out about the bombings through social media.

I quickly read through every post I could, and I gathered what happened.  I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon on the couch glued to CNN and any news outlet that had information.  I only got up to call Eliot and tell him, to use the bathroom, and to call my Mom to seek comfort in hearing her voice.  It wasn't enough.

The hours dragged by as details slowly emerged.  Three people were killed.  Countless others were severely injured.  Eliot and I contacted as many of our college friends as possible.  Cell phones weren't working in the city; people couldn't contact their loved ones.  Eventually, after what seemed like forever, we had heard from everyone.

Still, I wasn't comforted.  Boston was my home for almost 10 years.  For about 1/3 of my life.  I struggled with the question many people involved in tragedy do: why here?  How could it happen here?  I think the simple answer is that it can happen anywhere at anytime.  But if it does, nothing can ever prepare you for it.

Days passed and I tried to come to terms with what happened.  I felt violated.  Even though I'd moved away, Boston was a part of me.  I'd walked on Boylston Street many times with my friends as a college student.  I'd stood across from the Boston Public Library watching the Duck Boats pass for the New England Patriots' SuperBowl Parade in 2004.  The images on the screen were places I'd been and it was all too close to home.

A few days later, on April 19th, I sat glued to my television as the city of Boston was on, for lack of a better word, lockdown.  When I woke up, I read countless messages from friends in the Boston area urging everyone to stay inside.  A lot had happened.  A police officer at MIT was killed.  The suspects tried to get away in a stolen car.  There was a shoot out in Watertown.  One of the suspects was dead.  City officials ordered that everyone stay home while the remaining suspect was still at large.  The entire city was shut down; I'd never seen anything like it.  Friends posted photos online: the streets were empty, there were no cars on the roads anywhere, the park was deserted.  

I was completely terrified.  At that point, no one knew what to expect.  Everything already seemed so surreal.  It was like we were living in an action movie gone bad.  I sat in fear as the news crews went to Watertown were the suspect was reported to be hiding.  Eliot came home from work and joined me on the couch.  We sat in silence and didn't move. Late in the day, the final suspect was apprehended.  I clicked through three different news channels and didn't believe it until I'd heard the news from all three stations.

Then, I released the breath that I didn't even notice I'd been holding.  They'd caught him. He wouldn't be able to hurt anymore people.  I felt the sweet sensation of relief, still intermixed with the intense sadness and pain.  It was over.

Although, once you experience something like this, it's never truly over.  You move forward, but you don't forget.  

My friends and I shared photos and messages of inspiration online.  Boston pulled together as a community while the world sent encouraging words of comfort.  We sang the national anthem, raised flags and showed our American pride.  We thanked our first responders.  We prayed for those affected to heal and find inner strength.  We remembered those we lost.  We talked of strength, resilience and hope.

Boston Strong became the anthem of our endurance.  I felt completely helpless but I wanted to help spread the message.  Students at my college started a t-shirt campaign to raise money.  I bought one of their shirts to proudly wear as I trained for my first run Disney race.  I also bought a B Strong hat.  The proceeds from both purchases were donated to the One Fund.  It wasn't much, but it was something.

And I did return to Boston.  My family went to Boston one sunny day last May.  We wanted to take a day trip and to go pay our respects.  And I wanted to attempt to come to terms with what had happened less than a month prior.  I proudly wore my new B Strong hat around the city.  My city.  While we visited the sites where the bombs went off, I struggled to make sense of it.  It doesn't make sense.  It probably never will.  We also visited the memorial for the victims that had spread over a small section of Copley Park. It was completely heart wrenching.

In September, my family went to Boston twice.  We took my Nana and Papa for a day trip over Labor Day.  We went to the Museum of Science, the Prudential Center Mall, and the Copely Mall.  All things I did frequently while in college.  We also went down over Eliot's and my anniversary for a Red Sox game.  We celebrated when the Sox won the AL East Championship.  The city rallied when they won the World Series.  And Boston celebrated with the traditional Duck Boat Parade.  Although, this time it meant so much more.

And as you know, I returned to Boston once again this spring for a weekend trip.  I think being surrounded by friends from college, going to our favorite places and enjoying the city as we always used to has helped me heal a little.  It's still not the same, and it never will be.  But I was comforted by the normalcy of it.

A year later, April 15, 2013 seems like just yesterday.  I can't believe that it's been a year. I watched the memorial ceremonies this afternoon, and I've been watching the news coverage on and off all day.  I still feel the sadness and despair I felt that day.  But there's something new there: strength, courage, resiliency, defiance and hope.

Yes, everything changed last April 15th at the Boston Marathon.

However, as I heard the survivors' stories, as I listened to "Go the Distance" (from Disney's Hercules), and as I watched the American flag rise during the national anthem at this afternoon's memorial ceremony, I know that we will stand united.  We will heal.  We will move forward.  And we will forever be Boston Strong.  °o°

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