Feelings remain strong one year on

Posted: 15th April 2014 by Keith MacKenzie in bombs, boston marathon, culture
A woman holds back her emotions while visiting a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street several blocks east of the bombing sites in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday, April 18, 2013. (KEITH MACKENZIE PHOTO)

A woman holds back her emotions while visiting a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street several blocks east of the bombing sites in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday, April 18, 2013. (KEITH MACKENZIE PHOTO)

It’s kind of amazing how fast the time goes by. It doesn’t even feel like one full year has passed since the Boston Marathon bombings that rocked the United States and particularly the Boston area.

It rocked my family too, us being somewhat close to the incident and – true to the spirit of six degrees of separation – knowing so many people who were so close to what happened.

I would go into a long diatribe about how it all unfolded, but rather, I’ll tell you this. I learned about it via text message at home from my wife, and this after a beautiful walk with our two-year-old boy to nearby Winchester, about a 25-minute walk from home.

There, we languished around next to a pond with geese all around us, and I found a bright red feather in the grass. I’ve heard that finding a feather is something about a good omen or a sign of things to come, so I picked that feather up, admired the deep red colours, and pocketed it. It’s still somewhere in our home. I was well aware that the Boston Marathon was underway, but because it was just me and our son, and because my wife wasn’t too keen on us going to town during one of the most crowded days of the year, I figured it’s best to stay close to home and simply watch a bit of the marathon via Internet feed.

We came home, I put the boy down for a nap, and I turned on the computer to watch a local TV journo chasing down various marathoners on Heartbreak Hill – the toughest incline of the entire race – to gauge their feelings about finishing the marathon. This was well before anything happened. I watched this for awhile, quickly lost interest and went back to just hanging out in the home.

And then the text came. “Did you hear about the bombs?” or something to that effect. Quickly, I went on Facebook, which was suddenly filled with gory aerial photos of the sidewalk with what looked like red paint splashed all over the place. It was somewhat of a surreal chaos. I had some difficulty taking it all in. There was a lot of anger and disbelief. You can read about a lot of what I was feeling in this blog post I wrote the day following.

I’ve been through some pretty strange coincidences in my lifetime. I had just moved to London and was a 20-minute walk from Kensington Palace when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. I was on an airplane from Budapest to Kiev when the twin towers fell. And now, I’m in the Boston area and suddenly, bombs. OK, but how do you appropriately respond to this?

In retrospect, the response was wide, varied and very much erratic. That’s to be expected. After all, one second you’re just hanging out at a large-scale community event or watching it on TV or something or other, and the next second, it’s a war zone where three have been killed and hundreds maimed to the tune of lost limbs.

Boston Strong was the main slogan that came out of all this. It was two students who jumped on their computer and launched the “Boston Strong” T-shirt just two hours after the bombings, thinking they’d probably sell about 100 of these shirts that week.

They sold 37,000 instead. And now they’re up to 66,000.

Granted, as that article mentions, they donated 100% of the proceeds to charity. Nevertheless, people are getting a little bit of “Boston Strong” fatigue one year after the fact. They’re tired of hearing it. A scan on Reddit reveals many voices:

BigJ32001: A year after?? Try a couple weeks. I’m pretty sure everybody got sick of it quick. No disrespect to the victims of course, but my god did this get milked.


ElBomberoLoco: Unfortunately, that’s the nature of things. Remember the 9/11 Collector’s Edition coins put out? If you spent any time in New York City not long after….every souvenir shop was selling FDNY & NYPD caps & t-shirts.

Here in New Jersey…we had “Stronger Than The Storm” and “Restore the Shore” shit being sold everywhere after Sandy….much of it coming from dubious sources.

People have no shame when it comes to making a buck…and they prey on the good intentions of the unsuspecting.

But others gave the slogan its time of day:

ky1e: There are some people that take the sentiment seriously, so I try not to complain about it. I personally don’t like the slogan, but if it brings the city together it’s a good thing.

I was talking to my wife about it over all-you-can-eat sushi at lunch today while the TV broadcast a memorial of the bombings and invited donations to the One Fund. We came to agreement that yes, it was a terrible thing, and very much sad. And yes, it needs to be remembered in some way. I mentioned that other parts of the world don’t seem to go so far out of their way to respond like this to a local or national tragedy, preferring instead to retreat and solemnly contemplate all this in silence. I’ve had this conversation with my father as well, who was pretty explicit in suggesting that perhaps Boston was responding a little too strongly in the aftermath. Heck, even Bill Maher suggested the whole thing was getting a little silly.

Then I had a small epiphany: Perhaps people in different parts of the world are culturally inclined to respond to tragedy in different ways. Some cultures like to respond in silent contemplation. The United States likes to go all-out in covering tragedies such as this one – media hysteria, Boston Strong T-shirts and other apparel, and so on.

What if that’s due to Americans being culturally extroverted? They need to express their grief strongly and outwardly, with anger, frustration, sadness, whatever. All said and done, it’s best expressed publicly and loudly in the United States.

Susan Cain of “Quiet” fame called the United States the most extroverted nation in the world. It also celebrates extroverts more than other countries in the world. I tried to think of an exception to this, but I can’t. Cain’s right. I’ve lived here for a year and a half and have never had a problem talking with Americans about anything. People here are a strongly opinionated, loud, affable, friendly bunch and they are always up for a chat even if it’s just about the weather or about the guy who cut them off at that last traffic light.

It’s great, really. So why shouldn’t it be the same the opposite way?

Of course, people here are going to express their grief as publicly as they express their friendliness.

Hence, Boston Strong T-shirts. Hence, loud commemorative events. Hence, pomp and circumstance. That’s just a cultural thing. Let’s not bash ‘em for it, eh?

As for me, I’m not American. I’m Canadian. I have my own way to respond to the Boston Marathon bombings. I felt a lot of anger at that time against the perpetrators who were involved in this. I still feel an uneasy vitriol. And I do feel the need to express that publicly, too.

The chaos of that week can be best expressed in this video timeline. If this video shows anything, it shows the utter disbelief and fear that seized the local community at that time. The fear was real. The disbelief was real. The grief, especially, was real.

For me, I’m glad it wrapped up and that most of us were able to move on with our daily lives. In the end, if people want to respond with T-shirts, charitable donations, a visit to the bomb site, or defiantly running in the marathon next Monday – as many are doing – that’s all good and well. Let’s not jump all over people for it. Everyone has their own way to respond to tragedy.

For me, I like to think about that red feather I found. Cheesy, yes, but that red feather was a highlight of the beauty of life preceding the bombs. The rest of the week was a horrific week, and I’m glad it ended with the clean capture of the main suspect who is now awaiting trial – and perhaps execution – after all is said and done.

I just did a Google search about the meaning of the red feather. Turns out that in native culture, the red feather symbolizes physical vitality, good fortune and life.

Maybe that’s what I’ll take from all of this. Be stronger, and move on.