I’ll go for a run. That’s how I’ll mark this somber anniversary
I'll go for a run. For me, that's the best way to mark this 10th anniversary of the marathon bombings. I'll be one of 10,000 participants in the annual Boston Athletic Association 5K road race. It's held the Saturday before the marathon and the city always feels energized. We'll run across the marathon finish line. People will stop and take pictures. But when I shuffle over the blue and yellow line, I'll go back in time to that afternoon.
It was just after 2 p.m. on April 15, 2013. I was mingling with runners who had just finished the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street in front of Copley Square. It was a sparkling spring day, clear blue skies, the sun providing a bit of warmth. The professional races were over. Now thousands of ordinary runners, if you can call treading 26.2 miles ordinary, were completing their journeys from Hopkinton to Boston, for many, the goal of a lifetime, the coveted medals around their necks. This is right where I always want to be on Marathon Monday. "A great day," a runner from Louisville with a smile a mile wide, told me. I shut off my tape recorder and made my way back to WBUR to start reporting on the race.
It was just past 3 p.m. when I sat down in the studio with host Anthony Brooks. I hadn't said a word on the air yet when we started to see the pictures on television from downtown, smoke rising from Boylston Street. I jumped out of my chair, grabbed my recording equipment and raced downstairs to grab a cab. The driver got me as close as he could because by then, the area around the finish line was sealed off.
On Commonwealth Avenue, people were wandering, confused, wondering where their friends were. I stumbled upon witnesses who had been on Boylston Street when it happened. I handed my phone to them so they could be interviewed live on the air about what they had seen. Not much was known yet. I stayed, trying to gather what information I could.
As minutes, then hours, passed, the carnage became clear. It had become a horrible day.
A few days before the 2013 Boston Marathon, Cognoscenti published my essay about my love affair with the marathon. That started when I watched Frank Shorter win the Olympic Marathon in Munich, West Germany in 1972. Shorter ran to victory a few days after Palestinian terrorists stormed the apartment where Israeli athletes were sleeping. I was glued to the coverage on ABC and in the end, a rescue mission failed. Eleven Israeli Olympians died. "They're all gone," said ABC anchor Jim McKay. Now 41 years later, the marathon I loved more than any other had been also been attacked.
The night of the Boston bombing, as WBUR reporters began to cover this huge story, I tried to gather my thoughts and typed them out for a personal commentary that aired the next morning. It was late by the time I left the station. I remember seeing WBUR reporter Andrea Shea in the hallway as she came back into the station. She gave me a hug. Before I drove home to Natick I stopped at my favorite pub, O'Leary's, on Beacon Street in Brookline on the marathon course. There were familiar faces. Not much was said. We were in shock, I think.
I would learn later that my friends who were in the bar that day, when the bombs exploded, were worried about me. They thought I might be at the finish line. I hadn't thought to check in with anyone at the time because I was so focused on what was happening.
Early the next morning, April 16, I went for a run, by myself, thinking how lucky I was because by then, we knew that people had lost legs in the bombings. Then it was back to work. I made it my job to spend the day downtown, on the perimeter of what was now a crime scene, lingering by the barricades looking down Boylston Street. I wasn't alone. Runners were everywhere and I started to gather their stories. Many had been stopped before finishing the marathon. For a time, they said, they didn't know what was going on. They couldn't reach their friends and family.
A woman from Canada who hadn't been able to finish told me she'd be back to run the whole race next year.
Over the course of the next several days, I went to the scene each morning. I was reporting for WBUR, but I would have been there anyway. It just felt better to be in that place, talking to people, who, like me, were trying to come to terms with what had happened.
Makeshift memorials started to grow on the fences around the crime scene. Red Sox caps, running shoes, flowers, marathon bib numbers, American flags, college t-shirts. Eventually, those items would be carefully gathered and placed in Copley Square, which became another gathering spot where people came to reflect and talk. I kept going back to that spot, too, and one day I watched a Boston cop who was on duty in the area taking it all in. He shook his head and said, "I can understand someone going after me, but an 8-year-old kid?" He was referring to young Martin Richards, one of three people killed by the bombs. It made no sense.
Later that week, I was part of the WBUR team covering the manhunt for the suspects. In the early morning darkness of that Friday morning in Watertown, I remember being scared that the remaining suspect might come running out of the neighborhood with another bomb. The city was on lockdown and that evening, he was captured.
I didn't want to think about who the bombers were and why they did it. I still don't.
Exactly a week later, there was a moment of silence and bells tolled downtown. It still felt raw, traumatic, what had happened on April 15. Stories of the terrible injuries and heroism continued to emerge. I focused on that and what runners were thinking. There was already talk about the 2014 marathon being bigger than ever. As President Obama said in his address at the prayer service after the attacks, "Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us."
Over time, I was involved in interviews with people who were injured in the bombings. I knew it was important to let them share their stories, but I always felt a little uncomfortable about it, like we were intruders. How could we ever truly convey how their lives were altered by what happened, how difficult it must have been to move forward after the microphones were silenced and the door closed behind us?
I always struggle with my emotions when this anniversary comes around. I wasn't there when the bombs exploded. I didn't see the bloody aftermath. But I love the city and the race, so what happened is personal.
Ten years later, it's not about reclaiming the marathon we love, for me, anyway. It's about renewing the race each year. The memory of that day and its aftermath never fades. It's part of history forever. But up ahead is more history, the next marathon, the 127th and beyond.
I don't feel Boston strong. I feel Boston still.