Lessons from Boston

April 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

This summer, I have an internship on Boylston Street. I’ll transcribe original works by the Adams family, maybe do a little research, some menial office work. One more thing to put on the resume, to keep up with all the other undergraduate kids balancing partying and the promise of the real world right around the corner. It was a relief to see that “Congratulations!” email sitting in my inbox. I was guaranteed an unpaid gig with limited hours, and I was thrilled. There was a plan for summer, and soon another teensy bit of experience under my belt.

 A week after landing the internship, I went walking alone in Dublin. It was dark and late, and I must have criss-crossed the city twice, jamming music in my ears and feeling that familiar, unwelcome spacey feeling. I passed people on the sidewalk and waited at traffic lights and even picked up soup in a bag from a small grocery store for dinner, but I wasn’t there. Just a shell. More than that. I was feeling what I used to feel when I snuck out of the house as kid, when I would hop the fence and wander into the little woods behind. I wanted to disappear entirely, but there was the neighbors’ house, right behind a few scraggly trees, because the rest of the woods had been cleared to make room for a swing set. And so I would turn and wander back into my little blue Cape house version of Hell. And now in Dublin, despite feeling impulsive, and like maybe, fuck it, I wouldn’t go back this time, I knew soon I’d smile at all my roommates as I opened the door and make a comment about the weather and put the soup on the stove.

I really think God taught me a lesson that day.

After two hours of self-pitying wandering, with no way of telling my roommates if I was okay, or where I had gone, or when I’d be back, having left my phone at home, when the city was good and dark, I opened the door, smiled at my roommates (“Where were you???”), put the soup on the stove, and picked up my phone. Several missed calls from my mother. A frantic message from a close friend back home. Is your family safe?

 Is your family safe?

Why wouldn’t they be? I texted back. It’s a stupid question, something people ask in dramatic movies. Before I even finished typing I’d navigated to CNN. 

Blasts in Boston, at least one dead, scores injured, information coming in, and a street I’ve walked a million times filled with smoke and screams. The Marathon. Shit, the Marathon was today. People I know run that marathon. People I know watch that marathon. People I know could be dead or without legs, for Christ’s sake, dead or at least forever changed in no more than 15 seconds. Shit. Shit.

I called my mother. We think everyone’s okay, but we haven’t heard from this person, or that person. No, Sean, my uncle, a Boston cop, wasn’t working. Still out on injury, thank God, normally works the Marathon. But we haven’t heard from Dad’s college buddy, or Matt next door, or Janice…no, nobody knows anything, yes, she’s safe, but she’s stuck in the city, can’t get out, train lines shut down, phones off, can’t get through…

For the next few hours, I experienced what no one should have to experience. I refreshed news pages, I stayed on the line with my mother, and I waited. Waited to hear who was okay. And who wasn’t. Waited for what would happen next, because something would happen next. Another bombing, or an arrest. Something would happen.

Too close to home, I kept thinking. Perhaps the selfish thing a person can think, but still. I don’t think of people dying every day in Syria. But I’m unable to breathe when hate, terror, evil blows up the corner of Boylston street. And a couple hundred people with it.

I hated myself for my self-absorbed, poor-me wandering. And I hated that I tried to disappear while so many others didn’t have a choice. And while others were desperately trying to find their loved ones, find hope, find normalcy. And it’s not my fault, and maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but Jesus, I was listening to melancholy musical theatre and buying bagged soup while a 6 year old little girl’s legs were blow off, and her 8 year old brother’s soul blown to pieces.

It’s a lesson I’m going to have to be reminded of again and again. That maybe all of us will have to learn again and again. But here it is: Don’t Take This Life for Granted. You don’t have time to pretend like you control it, like you can decide whether or not it’s worth it. You don’t have time. You’ve got to take it for what it is, you’ve got to decide, right now, to love it, and do what you can with it. Right now. This ain’t a joke, and this ain’t reality TV. Because five seconds from now, twelve seconds from now, eighty years from now, a bomb will go off below your feet.

Don’t pretend you’re better than Life. It wins the game, it knows more, and it’ll own you every time.


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