(The space for this blog is typically dedicated to words about accounting, or more specifically check printing. Please allow us today to discuss something more important and personal)
Tuesday of this week marked the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. I’m sure you know this as most news networks covered the ceremonies surrounding the anniversary. There were speeches from survivors, the Boston Mayor, the Massachusetts governor, and even the vice president. Yet no matter how much veneration was offered to those lost and those that survived, no matter how many thanks were given to those who helped, it is not enough.
My wife ran in the race, finishing 30 minutes before the bombs went off. This is my brief account of what transpired and what I learned about being Boston Strong.
The first explosion could be heard, seen, and felt for blocks. For those of us standing outside the Prudential building some five or six blocks away, waiting for our friends and loved ones to finish running, the blast seemed, at least initially, like a celebration. In fact, a handful of people actually hollered and cheered thinking it was fireworks. When the second bomb went off though, the cheers died and comprehension seeped through the crowd like the dark smoke twisting around the buildings on Boylston. Silence fell briefly, but what happened next is what we are all commemorating this week, one year later, and will continue to celebrate for years to come, including this Monday when 36,000 runners line up to run again—heroic action.
After the first explosion, a group of us had moved to a police blockade that designated a restricted zone around the finish area. There were about five police officers manning that stretch of road. It was their action that first impressed me. After the second bomb went off, they looked at each other and without saying a word, sprinted toward the bombsite.
There were probably around 100 of us spectators waiting outside the Prudential building. Any wonder about what the explosions were, be them celebration or terrorist attacks, were answered when the police officers raced toward the finish line. You would think that circumstances like this would lend themselves to chaos and panic, but this could not be further from the truth. What I learned that day is that common people are more heroic than you think. Heroism does not always mean running into a burning building. Heroism that day meant facing fears with calm and positive action.
The first action taken by everyone around me was checking on their loved ones. For many, myself included, this meant calling whoever was running the marathon. According to the Boston Marathon app, my wife had finished the race 20-30 minutes before the attack. The problem was, despite our close proximity to the explosions, we couldn’t see over the buildings and thus didn’t know exactly where the bombs had gone off. We knew it was by the finish line, but where exactly? Not surprisingly, most of us couldn’t reach any of the runners. But everyone kept trying. This was the second thing that impressed me. No one thought of themselves. Everyone thought of others.
Within two minutes of the second bomb going off, emergency vehicles could be heard throughout the city. Despite the worry and fear facing everyone around me, I was impressed with the collective focus of our group, and what I learned later was all of Boston, to help. People stayed where they were, keeping off the street to allow ambulances and police cars to rush to the scene. Leaders emerged organically, to help direct pedestrians across roadways between breaks in the emergency vehicles. And all the while, people searched for the ones for whom they cared most.
By the time I reached my wife, who had been in the changing tents at the time of the explosions, and she found us outside the Prudential building, new law enforcement officers had appeared at our street and were instructing people to go away from the explosions. Everyone followed their orders. This obedient action prevented further chaos.
The rest of the story we all know. I will never forget that day in Boston, but not because of the bombings. Yes, those preceded what happened next, but as the speeches this Tuesday attested, what we all talk about is not the chaos and the terror, but rather the heroism and the action taken to help.
For this reason, I want to take this space to say thank you to everyone there that day: law enforcement, medics, fire fighters, race organizers, runners, and spectators alike. Thanks to your calm and heroic action we have something better by which to remember that Monday a year ago. You are all what we mean when we say Boston Strong.