By: Lindsay Popper
Today was a muted, gentle, weird, painful, confusing, hopeful, exhausting, beautiful, hard day. Classes still happened at my seminary, a mile away from the bombing, and no one quite knew how to talk to each other. I gave up asking “how are you doing?” because I stopped wanting to answer. I bought Klondike bars for classmates before the candlelight vigil, I cried in an empty classroom, I gave a few more hugs than usual. We prayed in class and took Hebrew vocab quizzes and sent in papers and tried to make sense of everything at the same time as living the rest of our lives, and every now and then we leaned in and actually talked about what we were thinking and feeling.
It was during one of those conversations that a friend—the one I was walking with yesterday, our faces sunburnt and our voices hoarse and our eyes feasting on the hilltop view of all of Boston at the crest of Summit Avenue after the explosions happened at the finish line but before we knew about it, the friend whose couch I sat on watching, wordless, as the news reports came in—asked a question that has stuck with me.
“Is it still OK for me to think Marathon Monday is my favorite day in Boston?”
Make no mistake: we are soaked in the tragedy of this thing. We are feeling the pain in our deepest places. The question isn’t, at all, meant to negate the horror of what happened yesterday, because that horror is written into our bones in a way that won’t get washed away.
But there are some things I want you to know about Marathon Monday, because I agree with her: Marathon Monday is the kind of day when the best of this city—this city that stretched its arms wide for thousands of visitors, that cooked 11,000 pounds of pasta the night before the race, that cheered when cheering was needed and then, when everything changed, pressed hands against bleeding wounds—comes through, and I don’t want the day to be known only as a setting for tragedy.
I want you to know that I was at the finish line at 2 AM the morning before the race after biking the whole course with a thousand other cyclists. I want you to know that the friends I made at the starting line stayed alongside me the whole ride and shared their homemade snacks with me at the finish and then biked home with me through Cambridge so that I didn’t have to bike alone.
I want you to know about the way the whole city shuts down for the day, the way I went over to a house I’d never been to for a brunch of sweet potato latkes and french toast and pomegranate mimosas, the way Emily’s dachshund jumped up on our laps and licked our faces when we weren’t paying attention.
I want you to know that when the marathon snakes its way through Wellesly College, you can hear the students’ screams of encouragement from a mile away, and that the students offer kisses to any runner who’ll stop.
I want you to know about the guides who run the marathon right alongside blind runners, matching their pace exactly and keeping them safe.
I want you to know about the racer who paused next to us to give her 6 month old baby a quick and sweaty hug before she finished.
I want you to know about the runner from Korea who came, inexplicably, to a quick halt in the middle of Beacon Street to snap a picture of us as we cheered him on.
I want you to know about the eight year old boy who filled up paper cups of water and held them out into the road, and I want you to know about the weary runner who walked past him, took the cup, drank it, and then started, slowly, running again.
I want you to see all the thousands of runners who raced past us at mile 23, exhausted and determined and triumphant and hopeful and listening for us yelling to them.
I want you to know that I walked away from the race yesterday saying, “I want to do this.” I didn’t mean “I want to run a marathon.” I meant the shouting, the encouraging, the affirming. I meant the effortful work of reading strangers’ names scrawled in sharpie on their arms so that we could chant them and then watch the runners’ eyes glisten, their backs straighten, their strides lengthen.
That’s what I was thinking about when we left Beacon Street, just minutes before the bombs exploded and police came through to clear the area. That’s what I was thinking before I started seeing all of the terrifying videos, before I got text messages from former co-workers and my high school boyfriend and my pastor and my dentist all checking to see if I was OK, before I noticed in the photos from the scene that the people tying tourniquets and carrying bleeding children were people who had run past us not even an hour earlier.
There are so many stories to tell about this. We need to tell and to hear the stories of pain. We need to grieve. We need to be angry and scared and sad and confused. And we need to tell other stories, too—littler stories, perhaps, ones that aren’t news but that tell the story of people living in a city on a day when extraordinary things happen. I want you to know some of these little stories, because I want you to see a fuller picture of what happened.
I want you to know that tonight my voice is still sore from shouting for four hours at mile 23: “you got this” and “you can do it” and “we believe in you” and “bring it home” and “keep going,” and I want you to know that that is exactly what I plan to keep saying, over and over again, to this weary, hurting city.