Commentary: Boston Strong
By Natalie Covate
BU News Service
Tuesday morning I sat at my computer watching and re-watching the video footage of the Boston Marathon finish line explosions. Front pages were covered with gruesome photographs of people covered in blood and limbs severed. My eyes widened and I felt the color drain from my face as I began to understand the gravity of what had happened.
Everything on Monday had happened so quickly that the truth of the events didn’t register in my mind until the next day. The United States was attacked, I knew. People died. Many more were injured. My phone would not stop ringing with people checking to make sure I was okay. But I pushed past it, ignoring it, alongside the rest of our news staff to just report what was happening.
It didn’t sink in until Tuesday morning.
I cannot think of a more peaceful sporting event than a marathon. The whole morning I watched crowds near mile 22 cheering on every single runner who passed. “You can do it!” they said. “The hard part is over! You’re almost there!”
Yet, the finish line of this friendly event fueled by the support of strangers was the target of this tragedy. Now the event will never be the same again, tinged by memories of the fear and loss of life.
As I watched and re-watched the explosion knock over the now iconic man about to finish the marathon and the smoke rising quickly around the surrounding buildings, I found myself thinking that it could have been so much worse.
Around the corner from the finish line was a large, well-staffed medical tent. None of them were expecting the day that they had, but they were able to respond to most victims of the explosion in five minutes or less.
Most victims arrived at hospitals during a shift change, which meant that twice the medical staff was available to help the injured who were coming in.
Immediately, people started tweeting a quote from Fred Rogers, the late children’s television personality, which became a comfort for those affected.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers said, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
And among the blood in the horrifying images of the attack, the helpers were visible, wheeling gurneys and wheelchairs toward a medical tent, escorting the uninjured out of the area, carrying some that could not walk.
Again, I thought, it could have been so much worse. Three lives were lost, including a BU student, but other lives were saved.
Almost as suddenly as the bombs went off, the country erupted with support.
People changed their Facebook photos to images that stated “I Stand With Boston.” The New York Yankees played “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning on Tuesday.
And in Boston’s Back Bay, where the tragedy played out, barricaded intersections were decorated with flowers, flags, t-shirts, and posters urging the city to stay strong.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama came to town and told the city and the nation that Boston “will run again.” He was joined at the interfaith service by clergy and a host of other leaders, who all spoke with conviction and offered words of encouragement.
The soothing tone of Thursday’s service was shattered by events on Friday following investigators’ release of photos of the suspects. And names were eventually attached to their photos. They were almost home grown. Brothers. Immigrants who lived in Cambridge and attended the local high school.
And then it happened. Almost a week of drama intensified on Friday night, as reports of an “officer down” at MIT rippled through media and police confirmed that they were chasing the suspects in the bombing. Gunshots were heard in Watertown, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev, then known as Suspect 1, was killed.
His brother eluded the chase that night, setting off a massive manhunt.
The next day, Watertown, surrounding towns, and the entire city of Boston, shut down. The MBTA did not operate. Taxis were ordered not to provide service. Shops and officers were urged to remain closed as law enforcement looked went from house to house looking for Suspect 2.
The Happy Gilmore Twitter account joked, “Boston is probably the only major city that if you [expletive] with them, they will shut down the whole city… stop everything.. and find you.”
Although I laughed, it was true. Boston did shut down to look for the remaining suspect, and at the end of the day, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, Suspect 2, was found hiding inside a covered boat in the backyard of a Watertown resident, apprehended and rushed to the hospital so his injuries could be treated.
And just like that, the city was out their doors, celebrating, honking, shouting and cheering. The entire area, and the country, heaved a sigh of relief. And just yesterday, everyone was back to their daily business. People were outside enjoying the sunlight. The T was full of people. Joggers took to the streets, dodging pedestrians, headphones in their ears.
I had never been to Boston before moving here in late August, but it has become apparent to me that the people of this city love it in a way that is not completely understandable until you survive a New England winter and realize that people have done so for years and still refuse to leave.
Bostonians are tough in a way that you don’t understand until after the weather just begins to warm and you see people sunbathing when it’s only 45 degrees outside.
Things aren’t quite back to normal, but they will get better. In the videos released after the explosion, some runners can be seen getting up and finishing the race. And after this week, Boston will also pick itself up and keep going.