“It is thrilling, in the most terrifying sort of way, to play the game of What If? What if Ari had been a few blocks closer to the finish line? What if Anne had been wandering outside the medical tent at the moment of the blast? Or what if she had not been there to help the wounded? … It is weird and discomforting being physically so far from the tragedy but emotionally so close.”
I wrote these words on Monday while watching the news of the Boston Marathon bombing unfold. As the headlines grew from “Explosion at Boston Marathon” to “Two Bombs Explode at Boston Marathon” to “Two Dead from Bombing at Boston Marathon,” I found myself lost in those awkward speculations. It was the only place I could occupy, because I am geographically as far removed from home as those hypotheticals are from reality.
I should clarify: I do not call Boston home. I grew up in northern New England, a two-and-a-half hour drive up three of the four interstates that exist north of Massachusetts. But for many of us up there, we take the Hub as our own. The Red Sox are referred to as “we,” as in, “We lost yesterday,” or “Why on Earth did we trade for Joel Hanrahan, he lost us the game yesterday.” The same goes for the Patriots, although we prefer not to say “we” when we let Wes Welker walk to Denver. Then we say “they.”
All of us have spent time in Boston, often because of sports. I have been going to Red Sox games since I was 7. I remember that August night like it was yesterday: After a long rain delay, my dad and I moved down to seats just behind the Sox dugout, where we listened to Flash Gordon’s pitches crackle through the freshly washed air and watched Nomar’s 10th-inning walk-off wink into the night behind the Green Monster’s klieg lights. I’m not the only one who has a story like that.
Those sports memories, though, aren’t the only things pulling us back to Boston. We all have friends or family who live and work in the city. So when we hear about something like the bombing, it wrenches us out of whatever far-flung location we happen to find ourselves in and puts us in this limbo where we desperately want to be there but simply cannot.
We begin to check in with those people. Facebook mercifully updates us that our friends are safe. Texts trickle in, although sometimes they make you queasy as they comfort. My childhood friend, who works in Boston and was enjoying the Patriots Day revelry, texted me, “We’re all good down here. I was within a couple blocks when it happened, but got home okay.”
The time between the announcement of deaths and the announcement of the names of the dead is the worst. Even though we know there is a minuscule chance that a friend might be among the three, I, at least, constantly checked updates until I knew everyone I know was safe. This breeds a strange, irreconcilable emotion though: I feel an intense sadness upon reading those names but also the guilt of having heaved a small sigh of relief when I did not recognize any of them.
But the best part of this is that no one has a monopoly on the feelings that accompany a tragedy like this. I feel one degree removed from the bombing because I am 3,000 miles away. Someone who is 3,000 miles away and doesn’t know anyone there might feel two.
But the emotion that pours out of that other person is no less intense or less valid than the feelings I feel. Reading the messages of support from my two worlds displaced a little of that afternoon’s pervasive sadness. Despite the day’s events, I could not help but smile as I watched the East and West coasts converge to rally behind our city.