Regaining our balance in the wake of the Boston Marathon

Like many people, I imagine, I left for work on Wednesday morning with a heavy heart and a sick belly.  My commute was an uneventful one, unless you count an MBTA bus driver so lively and eccentric her passengers were wondering aloud whether or not she'd forgotten to take her meds.  I have to say, I was relieved for the distraction. 

The silence in Copley reminds me of New York post 9/11, in those days when we all felt a little more raw, a little more exposed.  I was twenty-two back then and temping that week in Times Square.  Even as I watched the image on NY1 of the plane striking the WTC, I still dialed my temp agency in a haze and asked a woman named Cecilia, "Should I still go into work, do you think?"  Cecilia said yes.  Subway service was suspended just as I made it to the steps of the N train, though, and so I turned around and went back home.

I was so young back then.  And yet this week has evoked the same familiar feelings. Only now I'm somebody's mother and the stakes feel higher somehow.  By now I realize the very idea of safety is an illusion, but even still there's a certain comfort lost when that illusion is taken away. It's a comfort I don't even realize is there to begin with, which somehow makes its sudden absence all the more unsettling. Throughout Wednesday morning I found myself repeatedly drawn to the window overlooking Boylston Street. The view was haunting and made my chest ache; the somber scene from monday's Marathon was being eerily preserved in time on the street below.  

Copley Square

In stark contrast, if I raised my eyes just a little bit I could see sailboats floating on the Charles River.  When lunch time rolled around I knew I needed to go outside.  I needed to see something beautiful.  Boston being Boston, I didn't have to look very hard.  

Flowering Tree, Boston

Spring blooms

Garden

People were gathered by the police barricade on Boylston and for a second I wondered who they were trying to see.  Then I realized they were wanting to get a glimpse of the finish line.  I found the entrance to the Public Garden congested with more news vans than I've ever seen around here, but once I walked past all that the park was as peaceful and calming as I always find it to be.  Birds were chirping, geese were honking. It was a beautiful day and lots of people had come outside.  Some were wearing the yellow marathon windbreakers, which is a customary sight in Boston this time of year,

only now it takes on a new meaning.  I decided to take some pictures and post them to my Instagram and Facebook accounts, determined to show people how gorgeous our city is, always.

Boston Public Garden

Swan Boats

Boston Public Garden

Statue of Washington, Boston Public Garden

As I walked around the garden's edge, I spotted a lush magnolia tree in full bloom on Comm Ave.  As I drew closer, I noticed a woman energetically snapping pictures. Eventually I said, "It's beautiful, isn't it?" and she confided to me that she waits for this tree to bloom every year.  "Last year all the magnolias died; it was so hot last year during, you know, the marathon; do you remember?"  She told me the flowers on this tree were all just buds on Friday, and she hadn't been able to come back to check on them until now. "I had to get outside" she said.  I told her I understood completely.

Magnolia Tree, Comm Ave
Magnolia Tree, Comm Ave.
Magnolia Blossoms on Comm Ave.
This may sound strange, but acts

of gruesome horror like the ones that recently unfolded tend to sprout macabre thoughts in my already too sensitive brain.  I've always hated my feet, for example, but yesterday I looked down at them in the shower and thought my Godwhat if I lost them completely, in an instant?  What really gets under my skin is the fact that a person can just be going about their ordinary business, just living their life when all of a sudden someone comes along and disrupts their destiny, simply because they can. Aren't the majority of us just living our lives, doing the best we can?  Don't most of us play by the rules?  I don't like to focus on thoughts like this because they frighten me and force me to look at how vulnerable all of us are, by nature.  And that sort of fear gives way to anger, which I once read is only fear internalized.

On Friday night, just after nine, I tiptoed out of my son's room after putting him to bed when Hubby whispered, they got him.  They caught him alive.  I'd been praying all day for him to be caught alive.  A wave of tentative relief rolled over me, although I knew this new development wouldn't take away any of the irreversible destruction of the past week.  It didn't mean something like this wouldn't happen again and it couldn't bring back the four precious, irreplaceable lives that were stolen.  It couldn't return limbs to people who will now have to somehow learn to live without them, all because of the hateful whim of people they've never even met.  

I commend our law enforcement.  My sister is married to a Boston police officer and so I understand how hard they work and how their families sacrifice for us all.  I applaud the brilliant doctors and medical professionals who saved life after life after life this week. Their collective selflessness just amazes me.  I go to work every day and earn a paycheck that supports my family, but I don't do anything heroic or profound.  I am in awe of those who do.

Flag at half mast, outside Hancock Tower
The other day my mother told me to be careful, to keep my eyes open, as always.  And it occured to me that my being careful and alert probably has little to do with anything, that it might prove to be pretty futile should I encounter someone with zero regard for human life.  I hate thinking thoughts like this.  As I closed my eyes last night, I silently asked for a sign, for a way to move forward without being swallowed up by anger and fear.  First thing this morning, while watching PBS with my little boy, an episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood provided me with my answer.  It was the "Thank You Day" episode, which we've already seen countless times, all about being grateful. That's ityou know; I heard a voice in my head say. That's all you can do, really. Be thankful. There's your answer.  Try your best to live in the moment.  Be present.  Know gratitude.

And so I hug my son tightly, I press my lips against the soft squishiness of his perfect baby cheeks.  I love him so much it hurts.  I rest my head against my husband's shoulder, I tell my family I love them.  It's so good to be alive, and it's a tragedy that some people can't or won't realize this.  But rather than feel afraid, rather than succomb to a sick fear over the complicated world I've brought one, soon to be two children into, I'm going to try my hardest to teach them by example how to appreciate and honor their beautiful lives and the lives of all those they encounter.  Our illusion of safety has been taken away, yet again, but we will persevere somehow, because we know we have to.  And anyway, what is our alternative?

Photo

 

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