It always begins with the reenactment, in the early light of dawn, of the first chaotic, confusing shots of the American Revolution, on the Green at Lexington. In the 4:30 am dark, spectators gather around its perimeter, well-bundled up against the cold, and drink coffee and eat donuts sold by the Boy Scouts.
Reenactors pace around the Green, talking to each other of rumors that the British are on the road. They don’t break character; they study for their parts through the winter, and each takes the role of a person who was actually present.
As the light rises the redcoats indeed arrive, in their brisk formation, and the two groups face each other nervously. There are catcalls back and forth, between the soldiers and the farmers. Colonel Parker shouts to his Minutemen: “Stand your ground, boys. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!” Then there are shots, nobody yet knows from whom in the confusion, and the Revolution is begun.
Then spectators and reenactors go off together to pancake breakfasts, run efficiently by the Boy Scouts.
It’s a great and stirring beginning to Patriots’ Day here in Massachusetts.
A few hours later, this year’s 27,000-odd Marathon runners gathered in Hopkinton. Some of them competed in wheelchairs. It was a gorgeous day for the Marathon, blue but coolish. I had company or I would have gone early to the finish line, as I often do, to await the winners and all the others.
My guest and I watched the finish, and then she went off home and I tucked in for a short nap, since she and I had been up late the night before talking.
But I couldn’t sleep. Around 2:45 I heard what seemed a clap of thunder, and then another, and idly puzzled, as I lay there resting in my nice bed, over the unexpected storm. Now, of course, I understand that I heard the bombs.
After my little rest I went to my machine here in my office, did some work, sent out an update to my website subscribers, and then just checked the news headlines before ending the short afternoon’s work---
---I ran downstairs and called to my husband as I raced to turn on the television: “Something bad, something terrible has happened at the Marathon!!”
O the horror, the horror of it. The blood and horror. The desperate running now, so different from the race, though confused runners still tried to cross the finish line, only strides away. The smoke, the people rushing to help. Tearing down the celebratory row of flags of all nations to get through the fenced barrier to the wounded and the dead, and even in the midst of dire need, at least one person attempted to furl a flag respectfully, rather than trample on it, as he ripped it down.
The wanton cruelty, the desecration of this very, very American day. I knew immediately that this had been done by local people, people who knew that the greatest number of runners crosses the finish line about two hours after the lead runners. People who knew that Patriots’ Day carries a symbolic freight.
How did I feel? I was very, very angry, and I felt sick in my body.
Three have died, a little boy, a young woman, a Chinese graduate student. How can I walk to my volunteer work while dozens lie in hospital beds and have no legs?
Many people on the streets wore their blue and yellow Boston Athletic Association jackets; it’s how you knew they were runners. They come from all over the world to compete in this race, you know. I approached some of them, asking how they were, were they all right. “Yes, I’m okay,” answered one young woman, adding, “and my family is okay too.”
At the Museum of Science, where I volunteer in the butterfly garden, I saw an older man with a yellow and blue jacket. “How are you, are you okay?” I asked. Struggling with his English, the man slowly replied, “I am okay, but I am not fine.”
I thought my heart would break.
How did I feel? I felt terribly sad, empty, filled with lassitude and confusion.
The family who cleans our home for us arrived early in the morning. One of the women and I exchanged our stories. People need to share their stories. Where were you? Are you and people you know okay? She had several friends who were running, but they had crossed the finish line before the bombs exploded. Some of their friends had come to cheer them on, and they were okay, too.
I went to my health club for my water aerobics class. It was no good; I climbed out of the pool after twenty minutes, weeping. It was not a day for business as usual.
On the news that evening I heard about some people, veterans I believe, whose legs had been blown off in wars, and who were offering their services to the victims, to encourage them and to show them that they would walk again. Run again, even.
How did I feel? Sad, listless, anxious.
I woke up and they had names. They had names already.
In the morning I sat at the virtual hearth of the television and watched the interfaith service. All who spoke—the religious, the mayor, the governor, the president—comforted me.
Our governor said: “And just as we are taught at times like this not to lose touch with our spiritual faith, let us also not lose touch with our civic faith.
“America is not organized the way countries are usually organized. We are not organized around a common language or religion or even culture. We are organized around a handful of civic ideals. And we have defined those ideals, through time and through struggle, as equality, opportunity, freedom and fair play.
“An attack on a civic ritual like the Marathon, especially on Patriots’ Day, is an attack on those values. And just as we cannot permit darkness and hate to triumph over our spiritual faith, so we must not permit darkness and hate to triumph over our civic faith. That cannot happen. And it will not.”
The children’s choir sang, and one young singer struggled as she tried and failed to control her weeping. At the end, everyone stood to sing America, the Beautiful. And I stood too, in my living room at the virtual hearth of the television, and sang with them.
Late in the day, I had to be out of touch with the news for several hours. I was frantic: do they have pictures of these evil people? I must see their faces!
I went to bed thinking: By tomorrow they will be found.
How did I feel? I felt relieved yet knotted with tension.
At 6:30 a. m. our phone rang, waking us. My husband answered, listening to a recorded message for a long time without saying anything. “They want us to stay indoors,” he reported. “The suspects killed a policeman in Cambridge, and now the older brother is dead and the younger one is maybe somewhere in Watertown. They say it is dangerous to go outside.”
Again to the virtual community on the television. Young people with whom the younger brother went to high school were interviewed. “We are confused,” they said. “He was, like, just a regular kid, you know? Smoked a little weed sometimes, captain of the wrestling team, like, a fun guy to hang with, you know?” His guidance counselor said she was impressed by his intelligence and hard work, but she didn’t know much about his family. In fact it seemed that his parents had left the country and he and his older brother were more or less on their own, in a little apartment here in Cambridge.
We learned with distress that this kid had gone to the same high school as our daughters, that the brothers’ apartment (under siege as we watched) was a block or two from our favorite restaurant, from the spa where I get a massage now and then, from the home of the designer of this website.
All day we watched. Once or twice I went cautiously out on our second floor deck for a minute or two, each time carefully scanning the yard and driveway below. There was no traffic on the normally busy street at the end of ours.
Massive numbers of law enforcement people fanned out over Watertown (adjacent to our city of Cambridge). Their command post was at a mall where I frequently shop, and less than half a mile from the cemetery where I volunteer. We were nervous, frightened, excited, confused by many, many conflicting reports.
And then, quite suddenly, the young man was finally trapped and caught. A wounded, confused, frightened teenaged boy, at the last desperately firing a weapon, blinded and deafened by flash-bang grenades, bleeding, exhausted—and possibly trying to shoot himself, too.
His thin white boy’s belly showed below his shirt, pulled back to demonstrate that there were no bombs on him. What has he done to the life he was given?
How do I feel? Very, very sad, for everyone in this peculiarly American tragedy. For the dead, the maimed, the runners, their families, the citizens—and the grievously-misled young men who so cruelly and stupidly wounded us all.
Adele Glimm 07:25pm, 04/22/2013
Hilary, thank you for your insights and emotions, your very personal voice. They help.
Jeremy 08:20pm, 04/23/2013
This is so moving and beautiful, Hilary. Nothing I say could do it justice.
metro 01:13pm, 04/30/2013
Thanks for the close up report on this terrible event, now shifting to the political theatre..Enjoying your web site; where do you get the energy and enthusiasm?