How Does A City Heal?

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People pause on Boylston Street at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Saturday afternoon.  (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
People pause on Boylston Street at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Saturday afternoon. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Boylston Street was bustling again this weekend, the physical scars of the Boston Marathon explosions bandaged up. But two weeks later, Bostonians are only beginning to recover from the invisible mental and emotional wounds, and trying to find ways to cope.

High School Memories

On the grassy field by Cambridge Rindge & Latin school, a few alumni handed out T-shirts that read "Cambridge Strong." Nearby, a couple more were selling gray wristbands with the same slogan. It’s a message that hits particularly close to home considering this public high school is the alma mater of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

“I think everyone’s shook up because it’s a pretty tight knit community,” said Paul Goldstein, who graduated from the school in 2003. “You know, everyone knows somebody who knew one of the kids or knew them themselves. I used to lifeguard the pool they used to go at all the time.”

Samuel Gebru, class of 2009, helped spearhead Sunday’s rally to help fellow alumni come to grips with the shock that fellow Cambridge Rindge & Latin alumni Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were allegedly responsible for the marathon bombings. (Asma Khalid/WBUR)
Samuel Gebru, class of 2009, helped spearhead Sunday’s rally to help fellow alumni come to grips with the shock that fellow Cambridge Rindge & Latin alumni were allegedly responsible for the marathon bombings. (Asma Khalid/WBUR)

As people swarmed the park, Goldstein said the rally felt like a bizarre class reunion: hugs, handshakes, shrieks of “Oh my God, I haven’t seen you in so long" interspersed with conversation about the alleged marathon bombers.

Alexandra Voss, who came in from New York City, said she needed to come back to deal with the shock.

“One of [the suspects] was class of 2006, so it was my year, and that was very intense, just realizing I graduated with a terrorist,” she said. “It seemed so un-Cambridge. And it seemed to go against everything this place had meant for me and stood for.”

Rindge, Voss said, prides itself on diversity. And alumni riddle off facts to support that claim — they say more than 40 languages are spoken by students at the school and more than 80 different nationalities are represented.

“Cambridge welcomes everybody. You walk through those doors and you’re not going to be the only black kid or the only Muslim kid,” said Mahmood Abu-Rubieh. He’s the senior class president and a wrestler, so he knew Dzhokhar, the younger suspect who had been on the wrestling team and graduated in 2011.

“You know, to say that Cambridge impacted [Dzhokhar], it’s true. I mean, it impacted him in good ways,” said Abu-Rubieh. “Hopefully they don’t make an association that Cambridge raised a terrorist. Because that’s completely untrue and, you know, if anything we made him a better person.”

A Psychiatrist's Perspective

Dr. Roslyn Murov, a psychiatrist at Boston Children's Hospital, says it's much harder to come to grips with tragedy if you try in isolation. Rallies, she says, such as the one at Cambridge Rindge & Latin, help people heal.

“I think that’s really helpful when people gather and have some kind of ceremony to make sense of the events in their own lives,” she said. “And I think that’s a very helpful way that people feel like they’re not powerless, that they can do something that does make it better. And they can be reminded by being in those kinds of groups that most of us in the community are people who want to do good things for other people, not want to do harm. That it’s really a very, very, very small number of people who do the kinds of things that were done on the marathon day.”

Murov works with a lot of children and says it’s possible to estimate how long that initial fear and anxiety lasts.

“Usually around four weeks after an event I would expect them to start getting back into their usual routine and functioning well at school and functioning well in their usual activities,” Murov said. “And I think for those children who, at that point, don’t start coping well and getting back to their usual routines and feeling like they’re themselves again, not anxious all the time, those are children we really probably need to see.”

Murov said young children may find it reassuring to believe we caught the “bad guys,” but for older kids, it’s not as cut and dry.

A Marathoner's Final Mile

Helene Newberg ran the Boston Marathon for the first time two weeks ago. She was running in memory of her friend’s daughter who had committed suicide on Marathon Monday last year. But she was taken from one tragedy to another.

This year, when the explosions went off, Newberg was stopped at mile 25.2. For three days Newberg said she had no appetite. To this day, her heart rate jumps every time she hears stories about the victims, her anxiety level goes up every time she hears helicopters buzzing overhead. But, she says, she wants to move forward.

So last weekend she put on her hot pink running shoes and went to Boylston Street to run that last mile of the marathon she never finished.

“I wanted to run this last mile, kind of for me, to finish this thing and put some closure on the marathon piece of it,” Newberg said before her afternoon run. “But it’s not just about me, it’s very little about me. It’s about finishing the marathon, it’s about community.”

Newberg mentions the word “community” often. She says it's what has given her strength these days.

When she circled back in to Copley Saturday afternoon, officially completing 26.2 miles, a friend rang a cowbell. Strangers cheered her on, giving high-fives. Newberg said that camaraderie and community support is precisely what gets her up in the morning and keeps her trudging along these days, despite the tragedy.

This program aired on April 29, 2013.

Headshot of Asma Khalid

Asma Khalid Reporter
Asma Khalid formerly led WBUR's BostonomiX, a biz/tech team covering the innovation economy.



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