When tragedy strikes, heroes emerge.
By now most people have heard of the heroism that came in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The journalist who put down his camera to help an injured woman. Spectators who ran toward the explosions to help, instead of running away from them. The runners who after making it through a grueling 26 miles continued to run all the way to the hospital to donate blood. The police and EMT’s. The volunteers. All of them doing whatever they could in the chaos to help save lives.
Heroes. True heroes.
All of them.
But it’s a different story a mile away.
I watched the horror unfold probably just like you did. I was gathered around a TV with a group of people surrounding me, all of us trying to make sense of a world that no longer made sense. The only difference is I was in a bar along the marathon route. A place where the bartender refused to turn up the volume or turn on the closed captioning for fear of inciting panic. So instead of hearing an anchor give details, all we heard was speculation coming from a dozen different directions at once from confused patrons.
“Oh my God, is that purple stuff blood? Oh God, it’s blood.”
“I heard there are still bombs along the route. We should all leave.”
“No, the police are telling everyone to stay where they are.”
“They’re shutting down public transportation.”
“Don’t use your cell phone. That’s how they’re detonating the bombs.”
“My cousin said one hundred people are dead.”
“No, it’s only about a dozen.”
“I heard only two, but one is a kid.”
A mile away there is no smoke. No blood. No severed limbs. No screams. There is only large groups of scared people trying to sort out the information from the misinformation. We were far enough away to probably not be in any danger but it still felt like we were in danger. We were all desperately trying to get ahold of our families to let them know we were OK only to realize with growing panic that our phones weren’t working. As agonizing minutes ticked by, we watched our phones blow up with calls and texts we were unable to answer.
A mile away, there isn’t much you can do to help. All you can do is hand out cigarettes to people because if there was ever a time to smoke, now would be it. You hand them out to the two guys who can’t stop talking about how two people died and how they happen to be two people and how by that logic it could have been them. You hand them out to the guy walking down the street who is looking for his friend whom he lost a few hours ago and is worried he left to be closer to the finish line. You even hand one out to the young, drunk, scared girl who won’t stop talking about how if a bomb was going to go off, they should have done it at Fenway where there was a game because somehow in her young, drunk, scared mind, blowing up baseball fans is better than blowing up marathon fans. And you just shake your head and forgive her because she’s young, drunk, scared and alone.
A mile away, there is a frat house that turned their lawn party into a way station, offering passerbys water or food or cell phones or cell phone chargers. Or probably, if you asked them, they’d even offer you a much needed hug.
A mile away, there is a former EMT who keeps reassuring you that everything will be alright, she promises, when you hear that another possible bomb went off in a building close to your husband’s work and you start to freak out that he’s now in danger and as an afterthought that you’re all still possibly in danger and the terror isn’t over.
A mile away, there is a someone who let’s you get snot and eyeliner all over his shirt as you cry on his shoulder in front of another TV in another bar farther away from the finish line because you don’t know where else to go when the president makes his address about the tragedy.
A mile away, there is a friend who presses a crumbled $50 into your hands and insists you take it so you can hail a cab home instead of taking the subway since the police are advising everyone to avoid crowds.
A mile away, there is a cabbie who let’s you tell the story of the first time you ever went to the Boston Marathon two years ago when you first came to Boston and how moved you were that so many people would stand for so many hours cheering on runners they don’t know and cheering just as loudly for the last runners as they did for the first.
And five miles away, when you finally get home, there is a husband who lets you collapse into his arms sobbing because you both made it through this horrific day alive.
Yes, heroes emerge in a time of tragedy.
But a mile away from tragedy, there are only people doing whatever they can, whatever gesture, big or small, to help each other get through one of the worst days in American history.