Sometimes tragedy affects you in the most unexpected ways.
First published on Medium.
The day the two bombs went off, I was two blocks away from the finish line. My friend had just run the marathon, with an amazing time to boot, and we were all about to head home, when I heard two loud bangs that sounded like they had come from around the block. I thought a gas pipe had burst. It was only when we got to Park Street and heard sirens and saw police car after police car racing towards where we had just been, that I started to worry. I checked Twitter — no news yet. We continued walking in silence, a slow anxiety creeping up behind us. E and R were with me; I don’t remember who else was, but so many people came and went that day that it’s hard to recall.
We turned the corner as the first Twitter updates appeared on our phones. Bombs? That’s a bit of a stretch, I thought.
You read about all these kinds of attacks and you know — you know — that so many around the world deal with this degree of violence every day, yet call it first world privilege or whatever else you want to call it — I didn’t know how to deal with that Monday.
So I tried my best. The coming weekend was a benefit concert to raise funds for anti-trafficking efforts; I had been planning it for months. When I got back onto campus that Monday, I went straight to the dining hall and started putting up flyers for the concert, as if it was the most urgent task in the world.I was at it for about 15 minutes before I finally stopped and sat down, and checked Twitter again. This time, the updates were streaming in rapidly. My head was spinning. I started getting Facebook messages and texts from friends halfway round the world asking me if I was okay. “I’m fine,” I said. “Not to worry.”
I posted a picture of my runner friend at the finish line on my Facebook wall. “What happened doesn’t diminish this amazing achievement,” I wrote. Over 200 people liked it, most from our country halfway round the world. I suppose this is what happens nowadays when you can’t be there in person; you reach out through Facebook instead, and a like or a comment is substitute for a hug or one’s presence.
How terrible, is all that most people can say when unexpected tragedies happen. There isn’t much room for analysis, and like most occurrences, there isn’t a guidebook to tell you how to move on. In the days that followed, my college friends dealt with that Monday in their various ways. Some couldn’t sleep; others found themselves randomly bursting into spurts of tears. I couldn’t cry (I tried), so I found myself more devoted to planning that concert than ever. I still don’t know if that was solely a coping mechanism, but judging from how maniacally worried I was about the concert, I sincerely hope it was. That week, whatever time that wasn’t spent on classes was spent on the concert’s details. I’d wake up early to perfect an art installation on the quad; I’d rush to print out flyers in between classes. There was not a minute when I paused. Midweek, as I was panicking in the library about how the printer wouldn’t cooperate with me in printing out the right number of flyers, my friend E came over and sat me down. “Are you okay?” she asked. She wasn’t referring to how the printer’s lack of functioning abilities was stressing me out. “I think so. I don’t know,” I replied. I felt a morsel of unreasonable irritation swell up. Just let me be, I thought. Weeks later, we’d talk about that moment, and I’d feel incredibly thankful for her.
On Thursday night, two days before the concert, we heard reports that the two bombers had a tussle with the police, and that there was a mad chase for them. The entire city was pretty much shut down the next day; all university activities were halted until further notice, which was just wonderfully comforting news to my already frazzled mind. I spent most of Friday in my friend’s apartment, unable to concentrate on anything. I tried not to pay attention to the unhelpful speculations that the news stations on television were making, and my friends made sure I ate my meals. Never underestimate the power of community on days like these.
When they announced that they had caught the bombers, I felt like I had been holding my breath all week, and could finally exhale. Most significant things in life aren’t things you ask for, like your family walking away from each other, or falling in love, or surviving a bomb blast. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the family of the victims.
The concert went well, I think. Then I did my finals, and then I walked on stage in a billowing black gown and graduated. Two days later, I packed up all my belongings, and flew off. Life pulls you along and no matter the reluctance, it is not an option to stay behind.
It’s been six months since the bombing. A new semester has started on my hilly campus; I can picture the leaves turning. I don’t even live in Boston anymore. Yet thinking about that Monday still makes me want to cry. I went through the pages of my journal recently, looking for some semblance of reflection during those few days, but sometimes even people who like to write cannot write. Yet eventually, for most, there comes a point when you can look upon your life’s short history, heart steady, and give a tragic moment a nod of recognition, before turning back and walking on. There is no substitute for time.