10 Concrete Ways To Help Boston

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I was sipping an overpriced Americano in a small, aggressively hip coffee shop Monday when the news broke about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. I’d only meant to sit down for a few minutes, but ended spending over two hours there nursing my cold coffee and obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed.

Sitting there, I had the surreal experience of watching a disaster unfold in real time on social media. What made it even more strange was the fact that I was surrounded by people who had no idea what was happening. Two girls across from me discussed their upcoming Vipassana retreat and had a passive-aggressive competition about their current meditation practices. A girl next to me was reading The Feminist Porn Book and occasionally making furious notes in her Moleskine. A young boy and his grandmother seated on my other side tried to figure out his math homework.

Everyone was totally oblivious to the fact that someone was apparently trying to blow Boston sky-high.

April 15, 2013 - Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. - A family clings to each other as they evacuate the area following multiple blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon. (Credit Image: © Kevin Wiles, Jr./ZUMAPRESS.com)

I wanted to lean over and poke the Feminist Porn girl and tell her what was happening, because I was suddenly desperate to have a real-life, non-internet conversation about this. It felt so lonely to be the only one in that coffee shop currently living in a world where people were detonating bombs at maybe the most famous marathon in America. But that seemed like it might be a weird thing to do, and anyway, she seemed really happy to be sitting there, alternately reading and scrawling. I didn’t want to be the one to ruin the Feminist Porn girl’s day, and anyway, she’d learn about Boston soon enough.

Lessons Learned from 9/11

What happened today in that coffee shop was eerily similar to my experience on September 11th. I was in my first year at Dalhousie, and I’d gone to the Howe Hall student lounge between classes. There, on an oversized tv screen, a crowd of people were watching airplanes fly into buildings.

At first I thought it must be a movie, but then I realized that they were showing the same scene over and over.

“Is this a joke?” I wondered aloud. “It’s a joke, right?”

“No,” said the girl next to me. “Someone’s destroying America and it’s about fucking time.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I turned away and walked dazedly to my next class.

I figured out pretty quickly that no one there knew what was happening in New York. Everyone was laughing and chattering about their most recent drunken exploits, or their upcoming drunken exploits, or else how they were going to get money for more drunken exploits. It was as if I’d slipped into an alternate universe, one where no one was jumping out of skyscrapers because they knew they were going to die anyway and they didn’t want to wait until the fire made its way up to them.

I sidled up to one girl and whispered to her that someone had just flown a plane into the World Trade Center. She just looked at me blankly, said, “Really?” then turned and started a new conversation with someone else.

The thing about me is that I like to do things. When stuff like this happens, I get all jittery and weird, like I need to be doing something concrete, something real, something right now to help whoever is hurt. It was, in fact, kind of lucky that I was in Halifax on September 11, because there was actually a ton of stuff, helpful stuff, that I was able to do in the wake of the disaster.

After the towers were hit, all of the overseas flights headed for the no-fly zone were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, and Halifax. The tightly knit community on our small peninsula suddenly swelled by 8,000 people. The city needed to set up adequate food and shelter, and fast.

Naturally, when trying to find a large, unpaid work force, Halifax immediately thought of its oversized student population. Those of us in residence were recruited to help out in various ways, from collecting donations from local businesses to cooking, setting up house and otherwise caring for our unexpected guests.

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