Unfair But Necessary. More Thoughts on the Boston Bombing.

21 Apr

I wasn’t planning on posting about this again. Honestly, my first post was my own thoughts, mainly for myself. I guess others were able to glean something from it. But the events on Friday were in some way so sudden (the bombers are still in MA?) and so stretched out (try listening to the same news report for 19 hours straight…real life is not like the movies) that its hard to not reflect.  Forgive any rambling or disconnected thoughts as this was adapted from my personal journal. – Liz

Coming home over the BU bridge and seeing the Boston skyline – it takes my breath away, every single time. It doesn’t matter that I’m hungry after 35 miles biking and may need groin replacement surgery after forgetting to wear padded bike pants and that some annoying motorist honked at me and M even though we were abiding by traffic laws and hugging the far edge of the right lane.  Because yes, despite the BostonStrong, there are still angry drivers who honk at you. Such is real life.

I am cynical and so yet again I wonder why I feel emotional viewing the Boston skyline.  Is it because I love my city? Because I realize that I am viewing something that 4 individuals will never view again? Or is it because I lost my freedom for one day and I am overjoyed to be outside again?

The same thing happened on Saturday.  What a gorgeous day! I ran 3+ miles to a friend’s house, met up with two friends, ran another 5+ miles to another friend’s house, ran 2+ with her.  The miles run together were good – only other people who lived through this experience get how we feel right now.  It’s like planning a wedding or dealing with cancer or preparing for finals – this THING is so all-consuming in your life that you want everyone to talk about it all the time because its the most important thing you’re dealing with right now. But this THING is also so all-consuming that it becomes tiring that people talk about it and you want to talk about anything but it.  No one wins in this situation.

I teared up during my solo portion of the run.  The cynic in me says its because I saw two unattended backpacks at one point in the run and nearly hyperventilated.  The realist in me says that it was windy and I always get tears in my eyes when tackling those hills…and I was tackling them fast.  The stoic in me says that I was repressing emotion but when that little yappy dog jumped out of nowhere and sank her teeth into my calf and I screamed (more from shock than pain) and the owner merely said “Sorry, its been a stressful week for Princess” and my heart rate jumped 1000% that I couldn’t repress the emotion in me.  And the fighter in me says that any time you regain a freedom you had lost (the ability to leave my apartment, the ability to feel safe in my city) you cannot help but cry.

Monday was surreal.  Tuesday and Wednesday were adjusting to a new city…a semi-military state…grief that came in waves…disbelief that was ever present.  But Thursday, it was the day when the city finally exhaled the breath it had been holding and sure, there were still SWAT guys on the corner (one of them told me “I would be scared shitless to bike in the city!”) and there was still a crime scene and the horror was still present but the city was fighting to regain a new normal.  I even did something new (to me) and normal (for most people) and walked with coworkers to the corner 7-Eleven and bought gummy bears for a coworker.  Although this daily walk was not new to me, actually making a purchase at a corner store was. And then, dinner was served along with some photos.  Photos of the suspected bombers.  Photos gleaned with insight from one of the victims. I had naively assumed that all of this would be handled behind the scenes…I was purposely avoiding all social media where people were naively posting their own photos and thoughts on who the bombers were.  But all of a sudden, the FBI was showing real photos. Of real suspects.  It was hard to grasp.

And the Thursday “new normal” was suddenly gone.

And then things moved fast.

For some reason, the media I was following focused only on what was going on in Watertown.  Having barely slept, I was up at 5 AM and decided that heading to the MIT gym, where I could work off some stress and monitor the situation on the TV screens was a good decision. At the end of the Mass Ave bridge (the bridge that loves to hate me), I was detained by some MIT cops. They explained that it was safest if I went home. They even helped me lock up my bike on the MIT campus and offered to drive me home.  We picked up another guy headed to work on the way.

So its ironic that sitting in the back of a police car being safely taken home was when I got most scared.  The cops said “We can’t transfer you to Boston police yet because there is a suspicious package in a taxi up ahead and they need to do some controlled explosions and we are going to sit here while they blow things up.”  Loosely translated as “We don’t know what the heck is going on and we will go investigate and you will be locked up in the cop car while we do so.”

And that’s when it got personal. Because our human minds strive to help us understand things, they also do us the disservice of personalizing things.  I learned that the corner store I had bought gummy bears in had been robbed, supposedly by the bombers, less than 6 hours later.  They were walking on my turf.  And an MIT cop had been shot and killed directly in front of the Stata center – a place I walk to and from every single day, sometimes multiple times.

I can’t begin to describe how I felt about this news. This fall, I stood in front of the Stata center with an MIT cop explaining that my bike was stolen.  He told me that his bike had been stolen twice at gunpoint.  He told me that his elderly parents live in the apartment building next to mine and if I ever see an MIT cop car parked there, I will know it is him and that my neighborhood is extra safe right then.  And he wouldn’t let me leave until a friend came and I rushed straight into my friend’s arms and buried myself in his hoodie and the cop patted my friend on the shoulder and said “Take good care of her” and I said “Thank you” but maybe my thank you was muffled.  I hate to think that it was.  Because a few months later, another MIT cop, doing his job, was ambushed in his car and killed. And I hope he knows that we are all so grateful.  And that my “Thank You” will never again be muffled, because I have made sure to thank every police and FBI and ATF agent that I have seen since.

And so I held the hand of a stranger in the back of an MIT cop car and waited out a lot of very loud controlled explosions. I didn’t know then that the reason my turf had been violated was that it was also their turf.  They (or at least one of them) lived a few blocks away from where I work. On a street that I run on weekly. Very near to the homes of my friends. And now one was dead and the other was hiding, somewhere near the homes of my friends in Watertown.

And then I was home.  And the text messages were fast and furious and the media reports sounded fast and furious but were really regurgitating the same things over and over again…hero who identified the bombers…FBI working so fast…can’t believe they were going about their regular lives – gym, car mechanic – this past week…why did they stay in Boston…were they planning more attacks…younger brother ran over the older brother…Chechnya…bombs strapped to his chest…car-jacking and shootout with police…city on lockdown…press conference with governor and mayor…

And the walls started caving in on me and I wanted to go out – to go outside and breath fresh 70 degree sunshine and feel alive and warm. I, like everyone else, was impatient for the second bomber to be caught already. And caught alive. With no more injuries or death. It seemed an improbable request but it was everyone’s prayer – before nightfall, before people start freaking out and more tips are called in that divert police forces and more bad things happen because there are no available cops to do their nightly patrols, before darkness causes mistakes to happen.

And my mantra became: unfair but necessary.  It is unfair but necessary that the cops are working long hours and unable to sleep or go home to their loved ones. It is unfair but necessary that everyone in Watertown is on lockdown and that the rest of our city is on voluntary lockdown with no MBTA or taxis to take us from place to place.  It is necessary to keep everyone safe and necessary to keep people out of harm’s way and necessary to keep police from worrying about the usual and mundane: crowd control, traffic jams, broken traffic lights, Red Sox games, daily MBTA breakdowns. It is unfair but necessary that family members of the bombers are being questioned.  Do I think that just because someone is family, they should be assumed guilty?  Absolutely not. But do I think it is necessary that the police follow up every lead – talk to family, read his Twitter account, question his friends, raid his house, evacuate the house and the dorm because bombs don’t just appear and there must be a stash of other bombs. It is unfair but necessary that I relinquish a day of gorgeous sun and my freedom to go where I please. And it is maybe unfair to those who died to pray that this boy, this bomber, lives but it is also necessary. And maybe it is even unfair that the doctors tried to revive the first bomber but it is necessary because it is their jobs and they have sworn an oath and life is life.

Real life is not a movie.  It’s complicated and strange and there were many rabbit holes all day long that the media would take us down which were irrelevant and unrelated and watching a manhunt unfold in real time was both highly reassuring (our city FBI and cops are amazing) and highly creepy (I am watching a very dangerous possibly wounded teenager be hunted down on TV).

And then the manhunt ended. A boat…not in water…but in Watertown.  A man who saw blood leading up to that boat.  Some thermal imaging technology and some rounds fired and there is the reason I love America – because the same FBI and ATF officials that were intent on capturing him are now tending to his wounds and it makes me cry because he doesn’t deserve it because he killed people but he does deserve it because we believe in right and wrong and decency and trial and judgment without cruel punishment but whether or not this young man was corrupted by his older brother, I have seen the image – where he is standing with a backpack supposedly carrying a pressure cooker bomb at his feet – and a little 8 year old boy next to him and he must know that his actions will irreparably harm this child and he does not care.  And it makes me sick and it makes me grateful and I watch him carted off to Mt Auburn Hospital and I text my friend “I understand why people are in the streets shouting U-S-A but I do not understand why people are gathering at the hospital.  Why?  To gawk at a wounded animal, to hate him in person, to post on their Facebook status that they saw the ambulance carrying the bomber?”

And it is over.  “All ovah” as the Boston cops say. Except its not at all over.  Not that night – as we drive home we get stopped in front of Beth Israel by a large crowd (imagine the Beauty and the Beast scene with their pitchforks and cries of “Kill the Beast!” and you will understand why this was scary) and we turn on the radio and check on the peacefully sleeping baby deep breathing in the seat behind me and learn that he is being transferred from Mt Auburn to Beth Israel because they have better doctors.  And I am mad because he is coming here and we are stuck in this crowd and there are lots of police and sirens and I want to be home and asleep and not dealing with this right now. And I am humbled that they are moving him to a place with better doctors. A place that houses many of his victims. And I am confused because the crowd is screaming “U-S-A” but do they not realize that this boy, not by blood, but by citizenship, is one of us? Are any of us truly America by blood or are we all American solely by citizenship?  Are they cheering out of love or out of hate?  Are they truly thanking the cops for keeping us safe or are they causing more headaches because these cops want to sleep and not deal with crowd control?  Is thanking the cops by creating a crowd that requires the cops to deal with the crowd that is trying to thank the cops logical to anyone?  Because it feels like trying to mend a hole in the bucket that cannot be mended precisely because of that hole.

And it is not over because I lay in bed, with a fan and an air conditioner on full blast (I can still hear the crowd), and I marvel at how the manhunt ended so well but there are still a dead boy, and 2 dead women, and a dead cop.  And there are limbs that will not grow back and nightmares that will not cease and questions unanswered. And one day the wounds will not bleed but there will be scars.  And one day the streets will be washed clean of the blood, but the people walking those streets will not forget.  And the federal death penalty will be sought by a group that will also ensure that this bomber is given food and medical attention. And a doctor will touch both the attacker and the attacked with equal care. And I will run on the street again and walk to that corner store and pray blessings on that cop’s family every day. And I will no longer mumble my thanks as I walk past that ambush site, that stolen bike site, and leave my clothes in the gym locker so I can run around the river…not as far as Watertown except on long marathon training runs…but long enough to see the Boston skyline.

And I will continue to live in the knowledge that I am not God. That words like “American” and “justice” and “mercy” and “forgiveness” and “Miranda rights” and “love” and “safety” are complicated.  Too complicated for me to fully know. And this story full of holes and whys and whos and whens will be researched ad nauseum but never complete. And there will be empty seats at holiday gatherings because of this and there will be empty shoes for those who will never run again. There will be grief, there will be love, there will be no going back to before the bombing.

And that is unfair.  Absolutely, no doubt about it, worth-having-a-tantrum-over unfair.
But also necessary.




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