Stray Boston Marathon Bombing Notes

Theodore_Robinson_-_Beacon_Street,_BostonHey everyone.

Anger. Grief. Frustration. Rage. Sorrow.

Been cycling through those for the last hour or so, ever since my wife shouted down stairs to check Twitter.*

We’re all OK — thanks for the expressions of concern for Boston Balloon-Juicers in John’s thread.  [Anne Laurie — check in, please.] I live close to the Marathon route and about 2-3 miles from the finish line, and you can hear the sirens going back and forth, but no one in my house is fit enough to take part in the event, and we didn’t stir ourselves to watch up in Coolidge Corner either.  (Some benefits to sloth there are, Yoda says.)

I just had a walk with my son and his friend ninja-ing behind and around me.  It was astonishing.  There were lots of people on the streets between my house and the little park and pond we often stroll around.  Everyone — and I really do mean just about everybody — was walking with their heads down, peering at a smart-phone screen.  I’ve never seen anything like it; there was a kind of hunger for news, for connection, for … perhaps a reminder that the person holding the phone was both still here and connected to others in town.  I was doing the same, reading the comments on John’s post.  When I got to the end, I hit refresh and read the next twenty, a cycle that took me through the half hour walk.

Despite the head-in-screen hunger, folks were eager to make eye-contact.  Boston isn’t quite New York in its studied avoidance of direct gaze, but we’re not by reputation exactly the most outgoing, hey-shucks-how-are-ya-stranger kind of place either.  But today, we were nodding at each other, saying a couple of words of greeting, even being welcomed, as I was at one corner, to eavesdrop openly on a phone conversation one young woman was having, describing the way the explosion looked from where she saw it — a tube of smoke straight up, then blossoming out.  Her two friends were with her, and we kind of ducked and shrugged at each other, and I just listened while someone narrated the event.

I stopped to talk briefly with two runners from the event, a couple.  They had both made it most of the way, but were stopped, of course, as soon as word of the bombs passed, and were walking to the apartment belonging to the female half of the pair.  I asked them if they were OK, and they were glad of an excuse to stop and repeat (perhaps to themselves) that they were, that they’d turned safely away from the disaster.  I asked them if they needed help.  It was kind of a stupid question on the face of it, as they were both hale and walking towards the comfort of home — but for all that I winced inside as I fumbled the question, they seemed glad of being asked, though indeed there was nothing they needed, at least not that I had to give.

The two of them were moving strongly.  The woman was wrapped in one of those metallized blankets they hand out, and she looked a little more bent over than her companion, but it was clear to me that they had pretty much run a marathon and were doing OK. But there faces  were grim, fallen — nothing like you see in my part of town every year but this one.  Usually, even the folks who really strain across the line get that “I did it!” look.  This year, not a chance.

I’m sad as hell, of course, especially as the expected-but-hoped-against reports of deaths as well as injuries are coming in.  And I’m enraged: how the fuck dare some assholes do this to these people, to my town, to all of us.

I have no idea who did this, of course, and I’m not going to begin to speculate.  I am going to note, with my usual historian’s reflex, that the disruption of civil society by thugs who crave notice and power is not a unidirectional process.  We’ve dealt with fuckers like this in the past — see the 19th century anarchist tradition, or the abortion bombers, the inept Weather folk, or McVeigh and his penumbra of deadly idiots.  The Europeans have had it worse.  Enemies internal or external may seek to derange us.  We get to decide the timing and thoroughness of their failure.

Last notes:  best news I’ve had so far, beyond that of family and nearby friends being OK is that all my current graduate students check in fine.  I hope the same is true for all those close to you (and me!).  And my deepest sympathy and regard for those caught up in the blast, their families, loved ones, and their circles of community.

*Oh brave new world and all that. It literally did not occur to either of us to check the actual TV until a friend came over to drop off her son for a play-date and wanted to check the up-to-the-second stuff.  It truly never crossed my mind.  I think back to when Challenger blew up, and the speed with which I got the ‘tube up, and its one more measure of how swiftly our lines of communication and connection have shifted.

Image:  Theodore Robinson, Beacon Street, Boston, 1884

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2 Comments on “Stray Boston Marathon Bombing Notes”

  1. Steve Latham Says:

    Hey Tom, best to you & K & H; my head, too, was in my phone, thinking about my beloved Boston.

    • Tom Says:

      Dear Steve,
      Thanks so much for the contact. We’re all well, but this is a terrible thing, and it weighs on us.


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