On Sunday afternoon I went down to the memorial to those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.
I’ve been feeling completely shattered ever since it happened last Monday afternoon, over a week ago. It’s exactly the same feeling that I had in 1993 when I looked out of my office window down Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and saw the smoke rising behind the Pan Am building from the first attack on the World Trade Center, and then eight years later when New York was attacked a second time on 9/11/2001 which I wrote about in “New York, a Love Story.”
Sunday was a lovely spring day here in Boston, sunny, in the 50s, with daffodils, cherry trees, and magnolias in full bloom. I went down on the T to Arlington Street, one stop past Copley, which was still closed due to the bombing, and walked the several blocks towards the finish line.
Six blocks of Boylston Street were shut off with metal barricades. At both ends were memorials to the three–now four, with the murder of the MIT policeman–people dead and 260 people injured, some horrifically.
There was a real mix of people at the memorial, probably about half native Bostonians, half foreign tourists, judging by the accents. All was quiet except for a man who stood at the front of the barricade laughing loudly as he talked on his cell phone. After a few minutes of hoping he would realize how hurtful his behavior was, I finally said to him, “Please don’t laugh. People have died here.” He muttered “sorry” and slunk away, cell phone in hand.
The memorial was filled with bouquets of flowers of all sorts, three large white crosses for the three victims of the bombing, running shoes, Boston Marathon medals and t-shirts, posters, signs, and American flags. A man who appeared to be a Vietnam vet was managing the memorial, taking flowers from bystanders and putting them in place.
At one point he called out, “I need volunteers!”
I raised my hand, and about fifteen other people joined in. I had no idea what he wanted us to do, but doing something–anything–was better than doing nothing at all except feeling this overwhelming sense of sadness.
The guys in the hazmat suits had told him that they needed to remove the barricades and clear the street for traffic soon, and so he needed our help moving the memorial to a semicircle of pavement about 25 feet to the left.
We started with the flowers. A line formed of about ten people passing individual bouquets of flowers along like a bucket brigade. It was beautifully choreographed and very moving, but I’m not my father’s daughter for nothing, and he always liked getting things done the most efficient way possible, so I scooped up bouquet after bouquet of flowers, probably two dozen, in my arms and carried them to the new memorial site, then repeated the process many times over the next hour.
The new memorial took shape, all the flowers at the back, a section for baseball caps, one for t-shirts, another for posters. The three white crosses for the two women and the little boy who were killed in the bombing were moved, then surrounded by multitudes of stuffed animals.
The MIT policeman didn’t have a cross, but someone had put his initial, “S” for “Sean,” next to the initials “M” for Martin, the 8-year-old boy, “L” for Lingsi, the Chinese graduate student, and “K” for Krystle, the exuberant restaurant worker.
After all the emotion, I was drained. I thought about walking the two miles home along the route of the Marathon, but instead I wove a circuitous path in the opposite direction to the Public Garden, probably the loveliest spot in Boston with its willows, landscaped vistas, and Swan boats.
I walked through Back Bay to the bridge leading to the Esplanade next to the Charles River. On the other side of the river was Cambridge, where the MIT policeman was murdered and the terrorists lived. I cut back into town at Kenmore Square with its iconic neon CITGO sign (see below) and nearby Fenway Park where the Red Sox play. There was a game going on, and hordes of people on the street.
- In Kenmore Square I came across an advertisement from the sneaker company New Balance which used the words that Paul Revere supposedly said as he rode on horseback to warn citizens between Boston and Concord: “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
Even the buses are carrying the message as Bostonians are fighting back against the assault to our people and our city.
Thank you for writing about this.
Virginia A Smith said:
You as a writer will know how therapeutic it is to write when something awful is going on. It somehow helps you feel less alone in a crazy world. Thank you for writing.
Pingback: Virginia A Smith: Boston's Bucket Brigade of Flowers
S. Brown said:
On Friday I pulled up next to a car in the parking lot where I work in Auburn, Washington State, and there was a sign in the car window “Boston Strong.”
People all over the country and world are thinking about the people in Boston.
Thank you for writing this about the memorial. It moved me to tears. I still feel so angry about this happening.
Virginia A Smith said:
Thank you, S. Brown. The more I hear about those two brothers, the more upset I get. The older one had an American wife and daughter, for God’s sake, and the younger one had a huge bunch of friends and an opportunity for a college education. Life could have been so different for them and for the 4 people they murdered and the 250-odd people whose bodies they mangled if only they hadn’t chosen to wreak havoc on good, innocent people. Such a sad, sad story.
Pingback: The Boston Marathon Bombing, two years later: “the difference between us and them.” | The Year of Living Englishly