In the first seconds and minutes after the bombs exploded on Boylston Street at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the response was utterly human. Some spectators were stunned; others ran. First responders and medical personnel, who were present for the race, reacted to help the injured. Some runners kept running. Others stopped, covered their face with their hands, and began to cry. People reached for their cellphones to try to call their loved ones; many found they were unable to get through. Others held up their cellphones to film the response. Firetrucks, ambulances and police came screaming down. Helicopters began to whirl overhead.
Police urged everyone to leave, but there were thousands of people. The crowds seemed to move slowly. Once on Massachusetts Avenue, some spectators merged with people who had not been watching the marathon and who had not seen or heard the explosions. “They don’t even know what happened,” one person was heard saying to another. They soon would.
An attack like the one on Patriot’s Day joins many in outrage and sadness. There is no way to rationalize what happened and no good way to describe it. “Evil” and “terror” don’t quite articulate the senselessness. Three people, including one child, are reported dead, with more than 100 physically injured. Thousands will likely suffer emotional trauma — with the “boom” of the blasts and the rising clouds of light gray smoke replaying in their mind. Who will forget the sight of the injured?
“I saw people who looked like they had their legs blown off. There was a lot of blood over their legs. Then people were being pushed in wheelchairs,” Joe Anderson, 33, of Pembroke, Mass., who had just run the race holding a large U.S. flag, told the media. Minutes before the blast, a man of his age had run down the final stretch, letting a U.S. flag stream above his head, and the crowds had chanted, “USA. USA. USA.”
That feeling of jubilation was present from the early morning, until 2:50 p.m. Running 26.2 miles is an accomplishment achieved not in a day but over months and, for some, a lifetime. The 23,000 participating runners had to previously qualify for the race; they may have woken up early many mornings to train in freezing temperatures. They may have persisted despite injuries. Runners included the old and young. Some ran for charity. People who are blind ran it. Some completed it with prosthetic legs. A marathon is a great test of strength but more so of will.
And then someone, or multiple people, blew it up. The offender undermined such hard work and dedication in a few instants.
“The race that I and millions of others love so well is now broken, its purity of spirit tainted. What will the aftermath of the bombings mean? To the runners? To the fans?” Susan Pope, of Bangor, wrote in a letter to the editor on Tuesday.
The reality is that the Boston Marathon, and those who run in it and watch it, will be changed. But the point is that there be a race. For those who wish to participate, it may give them a chance to reclaim the event for themselves.
Pope wrote: “This I can say for sure: Next year on the third Monday in April, somewhere between Hopkinton and Boston, you will find me along the course. I’ll be cheering, clapping and shouting encouragement to the runners as they run past.”
That is, of course, one of the great aspects of a marathon: People come together to witness and be part of an event that is larger than one individual. We look to that time when we are no longer joined by tragedy but by the common goal of reaching for and seeing others accomplish their dreams.