I am on vacation this week and yesterday, I happened to be visiting friends in Boston. Fortunately, I was not there for the marathon. But still, I was in Boston.
I was in another part of the city all day and not in the immediate vicinity of the explosions. I was with friends at the time of the attacks and I actually was unaware of the bombings until nearly an hour after they occurred. Once I found out, I hightailed it back to where I was staying. On my way back to my friend’s house, we passed through the Boston Common. I didn’t know then that the Common was the designated place for friends and families to reunite. I also didn’t know then that the dozens of people who I saw in marathon gear were likely stranded from their hotels and had no place to stay. All this, I would find out later. All I knew then was how surreal my reality was in that moment. There were marathon participants walking past me, appearing completely stunned. There were police everywhere and police cars from every neighboring town. For some reason, there were school buses and MBTA buses lined up in the Common. There was a SWAT team vehicle and maybe 30 people dressed in military uniforms and appearing to be in some sort of triangular form (though maybe that was just coincidence?). I overheard a passerby ask a police officer “where are the runners?” and he pointed her in the direction of the nearest hospital. It was also eerily calm. If I looked in a cafe that bordered the Common, there were people just drinking their coffees, as though it were any other day. But when I looked back to the Common, it was clear it was not just any other day. And yet, it was so quiet. There were stunned people and heavily armed officers everywhere. But there was no shouting. No screaming. There were only hushed conversations and the occasional sound of a siren in the background or passing directly by. The silence made it harder to wrap my head around what was happening. Thinking about the quietness now makes me wonder if it is always like this in the hours after a bombing? Is this how people cope and get through the aftermath?
I also experienced and witnessed a lot of confusion yesterday. In the first couple of hours, people were confused and scared because they didn’t entirely know what was going on. As time passed, people became confused and scared because no one knew if the attacks were really over yet. The fear (my own included) and suffering were palpable in Boston yesterday.
When I finally got back to where I was staying, the TV was on and I spent the remainder of the night glued to the TV. I tried to pull myself away by watching the Daily Show or writing the post I put up last night. It helped a little. But I also kept feeling compelled to return to news stations or Google News, etc. When I tried to go to sleep, I found myself startling at any unusual sound. I got very little sleep because the reality is I did not feel safe where I was.
Today, I woke up in a city that is unfortunately and literally shell shocked. I noticed that I was in a daze. I tried to do a meditation this morning to ease my tired mind and body. But when I closed my eyes, I found that I could only picture the walls around me being blown out. And I realized then that the marathon bombings are already taking an effect on my psyche. And I also know that the reality of being in a city during a bomb attack has not completely sunk in yet.
I have found myself acutely aware of people who are in environments where bombings are a constant threat. I think about survivors of war often but my thoughts are turning to them more today. A part of me feels guilty that I feel so scared when other people are going through this every single day. It is true that living through an ongoing war will take a toll on you in a way that’s different than experiencing a single, horrifying attack. But that does not mean that the latter is not a terrifying and terrible experience. Whether you live in Boston or Aleppo, you should not have to survive through or die because of acts like this. You are a human being, you are of value and you matter. You should never have to go through something like this.
Maybe now that I’m home and away from Boston, I’ll start to feel better. And while I know that I will recover and my trauma is not nearly as severe as that of others who were in Boston, I also know that because of yesterday, my life will forever be a little different.
For now though, I will post pictures from one of my happier trips to Boston. They were taken in the Public Garden, which is right next to the Common. And yes, those are palm trees in the first photo-