Editor’s note: Boston Globe sports staffer Chad Finn wrote back-to-back blogs in the wake of Monday’s bombings in Boston. Together, they offer a unique perspective of the shocking, historic event.
By CHAD FINN
It sounded like thunder, improbable in retrospect on what was such a spotless New England spring day.
But other explanations for the single burst of noise that briefly rattled the Boston Marathon media center at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel were plausible enough that fear of the worst was momentarily fleeting:
“That sounded like a bomb,” I thought. Then, having filed my story on the elite race winners, I went to get a cup of coffee. It was 2:52 p.m.
I was two steps out of the ballroom that serves as the media nerve center when I ran into colleague Eric Wilbur. He had just been out on Boylston Street, talking to finishers for his assignment. Blood was absent from his face.
“Did you hear that? That was a bomb,” he said. “Two of them. Seconds apart. This is serious (expletive). It’s chaos.”
I ran back to my station to collect my phone and notepad, but it was already too late.
We were immediately put in lockdown. No one was allowed to leave the hotel. National Guardsmen soon took posts at the doors.
But those on the outside — reporters, volunteers, runners and their families and friends — entered in search of shelter from the scene, gradually filling the long hallways.
On a couch in the lobby, Joan Benoit Samuelson, who just a little more than an hour before had achieved her goal of finishing the race in 2 hours and 50 minutes, sat on a couch as a friend consoled her. “I’m shaken but OK,” she said. “I just hope everyone outside is.”
The gravity of the situation became apparent from the fear on the faces of those who had come in from outside and the gruesome stories they brought with them.
A colleague who had been no more than 20 yards from the first explosion arrived in the media center, tears welling in his eyes as he spoke of witnessing a man lose a leg at the knee.
A volunteer said lanyards were being used by first responders as tourniquets.
The horrific anecdotes were soon accompanied by numbers. Three deaths. Scores injured. A strange incident at the JFK Library, and reports of other suspicious devices around the city.
Context may be within reach today for some, but damned if I can find it. We don’t know who did this. We don’t know if it was a sinister mastermind or a random lunatic.
We don’t know if we’re safe, or if there is more to come. We don’t know. What we do know is that he or she or they knew what precisely they were doing, their act of terror timed for significant chaos and casualties.
We do know that Patriots’ Day will forever be accompanied by solemnity and sadness, a reminder that this happened in our city, on our uniquely Boston day.
And know this: That every clap of thunder will now bring unease and fear, leaving us to quickly pray and plead that we’re not about to underestimate the devastation just outside the door.
One of the reasons that I love Boston dearly, one of the countless reasons that all seem so much more vivid and somber and relevant at this hour, is that the city never wavers from living by that certain big brother/little brother code:
We can mess with each other, and be damned sure that we will. But mess with us, just one of us, and our unified wrath will know no mercy.
No, we are not all related. But in times of trouble, you’d better believe we are all family.
The magnitude of Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon only grows in the aftermath. With every turn of the newspaper page, every Twitter update delivering heartbreak in 140 characters or less, every new revealed detail about someone who lost life or limb, it becomes just a little more personal, a little more relatable, a little more devastating.
I see the picture of 8-year-old Martin Richard, the sweet-eyed Dorchester boy who just wanted to hug his dad at the finish line, and I think of my 9-year-old daughter begging to come to Boston Monday as a special treat during school vacation week, and the swirling sadness of all we lost brings the tears rushing back again.
The last thing on my mind is sports right now — sure, it’s true if trite that the games can help us heal, but, damn, let us mourn first. But it is comforting when the athletes that we cheer recognize that there’s something special about their professional home.
They didn’t grow up here. But they relate. They are a part of the family, too.
Solace, however small or fleeting, can be found in that unity and resolve. Bostonians have each others’ backs, man. That the soulless monsters responsible for this chose the Marathon, as inclusive event imaginable when you consider how many people beyond the 23,000 participants it affects, on Patriots Day, a holiday/city-wide block party that is wholly ours, suggests they were aiming for maximum casualty and chaos. Vengeance will not be enough, but it will be had.
But the feeling of vulnerability will not be shaken for a while. The calm is gone, just as it was in September 2001.
A confession: I am always uneasy when attending major sporting events, At the Super Bowl in Indianapolis two years ago, security was an elaborate labyrinth through a tent filled with security scanners and detectors. It was as impressive as it was complex, and it still did not prevent me from thinking about “Black Sunday’’ when I took my seat for kickoff.
Opening Day at Fenway jangles the same nerves. I wince in acknowledging that it does, but the symbolism of baseball as something quintessentially American makes it an inviting target for those who hate us.
What happened Monday was so easily executed, I cannot help but wonder what tragedies have been anonymously averted. Or what tragedy is next. I hate that I feel this way. But I have to, and I know I’m not alone.
Heroes like Carlos Arredondo and Joe Andruzzi and so many others began to emerge before the clock struck 3 o’clock Monday afternoon, and its reassuring that so many ran toward the explosions rather than away from them.
But is unity and family and brotherhood enough? Will it sustain to the degree it must? Or should I say, will our bond in the face of tragedy be sustained to this necessary, enhanced degree beyond a few months?
If the years beyond September 11 taught us anything, it’s that our nerves will settle and calm will return and we’ll all fall back into the pattern of griping about long lines at airport security and rolling our eyes while wondering if the security guy checking our bag at the ballpark gate could maybe speed up the process a little.
Our need for convenience will eventually trump our need for peace of mind. It will take years, but it will happen.
But please, hold it off as long as you can. Don’t let the reminders, as awful as they are, escape this time.
Parade routes aren’t meant to be 12-block crime scenes. Finish lines aren’t supposed to be the scene of the gruesome and sinister. Vibrant neighborhoods aren’t supposed to be eerily barren at nightfall.
And heaven help us, little boys aren’t supposed to die after hugging their dads.
Chad Finn is an award-winning writer for Boston.com. His blog is called Touching All the Bases.
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