Two years ago today, about 3 miles from the finish line of my first Boston Marathon, I was passing Coolidge Corner in Brookline, and saw my family cheering in the throng of spectators. I waved and screamed to them, but did not stop, as I was afraid that if I stopped to embrace them, I wouldn’t be able to finish the run. My then 14-year old son raced out from the crowd and joined me on the course, and running beside me he began to quote every cliché inspirational line he could think of. Hearing him yell “you’re the man”, “show your heart”, “no pain no gain” and other inspiring quotes made me smile and relax. For the next 3 miles he kept me going. I was able to sprint down Boylston Street and cross the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon and achieve one of my longstanding life goals. I crossed the finish line at 2:45 pm and my son finished behind me at about 2:47 pm.
At 2:49 pm, while we were being hustled through the finishing corral by the volunteers, and I was handed my blue and yellow finisher’s medal and was wrapped in a thermal blanket, we heard an extremely loud blast and I looked over my left shoulder about 150 yards down Boylston Street and saw a large plume of smoke snaking its way across Boylston Street above the runners. I was in a somewhat altered state having just completed the Marathon and my thoughts seemed to occur in slow motion … “What .. was that?”. A runner next to me said that it was an underground pipe break. I thought, “OK that makes sense” … but then my mind went back to 2001 when I was on my way to my office in Midtown Manhattan and I was staring down Park Avenue at the plume of smoke cascading out of the World Trade Center. Strangers around me said it was a plane that crashed into the building and in my mind I thought that a private pilot flying a small plane had veered off course and crashed into the side of the building. The truth of course was vastly, hauntingly different from my first thoughts. But today I was living in Boston, the smaller, safer City that we had moved to from the New York nightmare. Today was not 2001.
The plume of smoke on Boylston Street started to appear more ominous. When we heard the volley of sirens and saw not only ambulances hurtling to the scene but saw that the convoy of first responders included black SUV’s we knew we were in the middle of a bomb attack. My son and I were hustled away from the scene by marathon volunteers and we tried to speak to each other but there were no words. Last night, while watching a Celtics game with my son who is now 16 years old, he asked me if I missed running the marathon, and I asked him if he remembered that day, and what he was thinking when we saw the bombs explode. From the look on his face and his nonverbal expression demonstrating no desire to even acknowledge the subject, I realized that the pain of that day still runs deep.
We were not physically injured that day, and do not claim to have lingering effects from the bombings. We were lucky enough to have been able to return to our lives. One year later, I, together with more than 26,000 other runners took back the finish line when we crossed the blue and yellow tape on Boylston Street. Surprisingly, however, we still, 2 years later, internally feel the pain of that day; the inner torment that a boy and his father experienced when we averted tragedy by 2 minutes. We faced the frailty of life, the reality of a world in which intense religious or political views spur people to inflict terror on others, the lingering sense of mistrust we now carry of fellow human beings, and a father’s misgivings that pursuing a bucket-list item put my son through an ordeal that is still living within him.
Today, April 15th is now One Boston Day, a newly created tradition that seeks to celebrate the resiliency, generosity, and strength of the people of Boston. A news anchor this morning referred to One Boston Day as a “positive” that has emerged from the bombing. It is hard for me to feel that positives came out of the bombing, even though the strength and resiliency of our City did show through, and we have seen the true inner beauty of humans, and felt the power of our own core strengths. The ability to care, and the desire to be part of a community are positives in our world that sometimes are lacking. This leaves us questioning the very fiber of our society and doubt the character of those people we surround ourselves with. The ‘rising from the ashes’ feeling of solidarity is inspiring, and while I felt this same sense of solidarity post 9-11, I experienced the same feelings of regret— on the one hand I was happy to feel part of a community that had shown it did actually care for one other, and felt uplifted that the beauty of human nature had blossomed. When the world said “we are all New Yorkers” I wondered why it took a terrorist act, a tragedy to bring that out?
So the “what will you do?” question that One Boston Day raises began to float through my mind. I thought that I would perform small acts of humanity and compassion so as to pay it forward. I am running the last few miles of this year’s marathon to support a friend as he navigates heartbreak hill, I am not running on, but still supporting my old marathon team and other charities, but most importantly, I am trying to be there for those people in my life that need me -- family, friends, and employees. If we show kindness and compassion to those around us, maybe it will be absorbed into the greater community and help to make our inner human compassion come out in our everyday lives and not only when we are struck by tragedy.