Relief and Sorrow for the Boston Marathon

On Monday, April 15, I was merrily typing away at my computer, getting ready for PSL, my trip to England, and all of my todos. I was uber-productive, writing like a champ, checking Shaina’s running times, urging her on in my head. I could see her times update on the web page. “Yes, she’s doing 10-minute miles. She’s on track, her times are nice and even. You go, girl!”

I took a quick lunch break, and was back at my computer—I didn’t want to miss any of Shaina’s time checks. Besides, I was on a writing roll. I’d finished one article draft in the morning, and wanted to finish another draft that afternoon. I had to ready the PSL copying. I had things to do!

Just before 3pm, the phone rang. It was Mark. “There’s been an explosion at the finish line.”

His words did not compute.

“Are you there?” He asked me, urgently.

My fingers were working even if my mouth wasn’t. I was unable to speak—damn aphasia—but I was typing, looking for WBZ online to find the news. I opened a new browser window to see what was going on. I finally got some words out.

“Yes, I’m here. Oay, I see what’s going on. She’s still not at 35k, so she’s okay. The explosion was at the finish line. She’s not there. She’s okay.”

Mark was standing in Baltimore, waiting to board a plane. I was in my office in Arlington. Shaina was running down Commonwealth Avenue, somewhere.

There was nothing we could do. Not one thing.

I weighed my choices. I could text her. I was concerned I would worry her, when she needed to concentrate on getting somewhere that was safe. Remember, the Marathon officials have high-tech tracking devices on the runners. They have checkpoints. They know more about where the runners are than I do. And, I didn’t want to run down her cell phone battery.

I watched Shaina’s progress online for the next 45 minutes, as she ran through the 35k and 40k checkpoints. At about 3:45pm, when I could not take it any longer, I texted her, and asked if she was okay. That’s when she texted back that she had been stopped at the 25 mile mark.

In the meantime, I heard from my sister, my mother and several friends, who all wanted to know, “Was Shaina okay?” Since she was not at the finish, she was.

I cannot tell you how relieved I was.

Shaina had more adventures. When the marathon officials stop the race, they just stop it. They don’t have a real Plan B for the non-emergency people. The runners have no place to go.

The runners have no money. If they have phones, the phones are likely out of charge. The T (subway and buses) was not running—remember, the city was now in lockdown. These people have just run most of a marathon. They are tired, hungry, sweaty, thirsty, and they have no way to get home.

Shaina wandered around the city and finally managed to get to her friends back at Coolidge Corner, about 3 miles from the finish, who then gave her a ride home. She found some great people, who helped her charge her phone, who walked with her, who helped her find her friends. It took her another three hours to get home.

She was lucky. And I was relieved.

As for the survivors, I am sad for their losses. I cannot imagine what they are going through, and will go through. I have an idea, but each of us copes with our losses in our own way. They have excellent medical care right now, and given the extent of their injuries, they will need medical care for a while. They have a long recovery ahead of them. My heart goes out to them.

What Can We Do?

One of the questions we all ask ourselves at a time like this is, “What can I do?”

Don’t ignore this. If you work around Boston, or if you know someone who was involved in the marathon, do not ignore what happened. Make sure you acknowledge the people who may have been involved: the runners, the bystanders, the people who jumped in to help with medical training, with water, with electricity, anyone at all. Appreciate them. Say something such as, “We’re so glad you ran/helped/whatever. We’re so glad you’re back at work.” Or, “Our hearts are heavy for your suffering. How can we help?” Be human about it.

If you know someone who was hurt and you don’t know what to say, you can say that, too. “I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what to say. How can I help? What can I do?”

Please don’t say, “At least, …” When you start a sentence with “At least,” you discount the person’s experience with a pep talk. You want to be a part of the person’s support system, right? Say so.

With any luck, the survivor will start to say, “At least, …” . That is great. When I started to say that, it was part of my emotional resilience. But I had to say it.

You can always say, “I’d like to support you in any way you need. What can I do?”

Donate, Maybe?

Sometimes, donating to the victims is something that helps us all.

There is OneFundBoston.org. The Red Cross is always looking for blood donors.

My friend and colleague, Jothy Rosenberg, has created the Who Says I Can’t Foundation. So many of the injured people have permanent disabilities and will need prosthetics. Jothy’s foundation helps people rebuild their self esteem though high-challenge activities, whatever those activities are, for each person.

Building a support system for the Boston survivors, the people who were hurt, the people who ran, the people who were victims of terrorism is great. Remember to increase your emotional resilience by taking care of yourself, first physically and then by living your best life. Whether you use Siebert’s or Gonzales’ guidelines (see the book page), remember what the airlines say: put on your own mask first, and then help the person next to you.

3 thoughts on “Relief and Sorrow for the Boston Marathon

  1. George Dinwiddie

    Johanna, I thought of you and other Boston friends when I heard the news. I thought that you would not be running a marathon; I didn’t consider that your daughters might. I’m so glad she’s OK.

    Tragic events such as this leave most of us feeling helpless. We’re not in a position to be of help, and trying to inflict help is likely to cause even more problems.

    Thanks for your post.

  2. Dwayne Phillips

    The Virginia Tech shooting a few years ago…my son and his future wife were on campus. And so were the sons and daughters of many of my friends (safe).

    The odds are that your kids are fine since 99% of the people around are fine. Still, sometimes the odds aren’t comforting.

    1. johanna Post author

      Dwayne, intellectually I knew she was far away from the explosions. And that didn’t matter one bit. It must have been much more difficult for you. I knew more than you did—well, I thought I knew more. From what I remember about the Virginia Tech shooting, we didn’t know much. I found that quite scary.

      You are right, it’s very scary. The not knowing is the scary part. The inability to protect your children, the inability save them, the inability to do anything is what got to me. I’m the parent. I have always been able to do something—up until now. Oh, that shook me.

      Nope, odds are not comforting at all.

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