American flags and bouquets adorn the street barricade at the intersection of Berkeley and Boylston Streets in Boston’s Back Bay community.
At 2:50 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, as marathon runners were approaching the finish line and their fans cheered them on, a staff member and I were racing against the clock to submit testimony in support of battery EPR legislation in California.
Earlier that morning, I had come downtown on the trolley to work in our office near Copley Square, and had planned to head out for a few hours during the day to enjoy the marathon. In my 28 years in Boston, I had never been to the finish line, choosing instead to stay with my wife and neighbors at mile 23, cheering on the blur of athletes along with the masses. With my wife traveling on business this year, I was hoping for a different experience. But deadlines and unexpected requests came rolling in, and I got absorbed in work. Deadline: 3:30 p.m..
3:14 p.m. – “Scott, did you hear that there was just a bomb that went off at the marathon?”
One of the staff heard the blasts, just a few blocks away, in Copley Square. Looking out my window, people walked casually down the alley, no sign of mayhem or even concern. Was there damage?
The Boston Commons became the site of a media frenzy in the hours following the bombing.
3:16 p.m. – “My mom just called the office. Right on Boylston. Two bombs.”
Then we glued to the news.
Three of us were in the office that day. One was on vacation, three were working from home, and one had taken the day off to watch the marathon, in person, downtown, in the crowd. Did anyone hear from Mike!?
Flashback to September 11, 2001. I boarded an airplane at Logan Airport in Boston at 8:00 a.m. destined for Los Angeles, with a stop in Minneapolis. I was en route to a National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative meeting in Minneapolis when the pilot entered my airspace to say that our plane was asked to land in northern Michigan. He was calm. I thought we had a technical malfunction. When the plane landed and all the passengers were taken into the terminal, the rows of TVs showed buildings crumbling and on fire. These same electronics that were to be the subject of our recycling meeting were now the transmitter of a new era. Another plane leaving Logan Airport at 8:00 a.m. destined for Los Angeles was boarded by terrorists and never landed safely. It became someone’s weapon of that new era.
Boston police line the city streets in the wake of the tragedy.
Fast-forward to Monday, April 15, 2013. That evening, I walked halfway home, the trains not running downtown, my normal route home diverted by thousands of police. I felt like the pulsating blue dot on my iPad’s GPS – the one on the map that starts out surrounded by a wide circle but slowly zeroes in on my location – and I suddenly realized: Boston is now an epicenter of terror. I went through neighborhoods I did not know, places I had not seen, as streams of ambulances whisked past, lights flashing, sirens blaring, at every corner, for blocks and blocks, yellow tape fluttering, neon vests bobbing, people fighting for their lives, a city mobilized in goodness and prayer. Copters overhead fttt fttt fttt in the cool, clear air. Red lights. Blue lights. Flashing, blurring. I spotted a trolley as it emerged from the depths at St. Mary’s street, hopped aboard, paid my fare, and was transported outbound, where my TV would tell me the story that my heart already knew.
The Copley Square T Station on Boylston Street in Boston, typically abuzz with city life, is now surrounded by barricades and desolate, closed to the public after the bombings.
Today, my train stop at Copley Square in downtown Boston is still closed. The underground station stop from which I surface every morning on my way to work, and into which I descend every evening on my way back home, suddenly seems claustrophobic, a trap. The street and sidewalk are now a crime scene, stained red with sorrow. The mundane is now a blessing, screaming for mercy.
Boston is sad. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. An area brimming with bustle has been transformed into a desolate zone sectioned off with cold metal barriers. The sadness is tinged with disbelief. Someone took a beautiful event – where children hand out orange slices and cups of water to toiling runners – and tarnished it forever.
But Boston is also compassionate and tough. The instantaneous reactions of people who ripped off their shirts to help the wounded, or who fearlessly rushed toward the blasts to help save lives, has shown that we live in a great society. These acts of heroism were not calculated movements. They were reactions of people who grew up learning to be kind to one another and to help others in need.
A handwritten poster hangs from a street barricade near Copley Square.
The memorials of teddy bears, flowers, and signs, and the spontaneous singing to sooth the circumstances, have all come from the innermost part of our collective soul. The mobilization that followed this tragedy has provided us all with a great beacon of hope that now permeates the downtown devastation.
Over the past few days, I have received an outpouring of heartfelt support from my family, friends, and colleagues, who let me know that they care – about me and my family, about our staff, about Boston, and about what happened at Copley Square.
Yes, the bombs mark a “new era.” But those phone calls, emails, and text messages of support, along with all the heroics during and after the bombings, will be what I remember most about this horrific event. We truly are “…one Nation under God, indivisible…”