*It has taken me over a year to finally document my experience of the events on 4-15-13 in writing. I wanted to accomplish this before returning to Boston this year, to hopefully allow more healing and closure...
Although it had been quite a challenge, my first Boston Marathon had been exquisite - exceeding all that I had envisioned it would be. The organization, logistics, volunteers and community support along the entire route was amazing, on what was like a 26.2 mile parade route! In all of my marathons, I had never felt such literal energy or mojo flow from the crowd, right into me as I struggled to keep running to the finish.
As I walked past the medal area and paused at the water table in the recovery area, I looked for a place to sit down, but decided I better stay on my feet and keep moving, to allow proper cool down of my legs. I reflected on the events of the day, watched as others finished and received their medals, and relived the emotions of my Boston experience again. I'm not sure how many minutes had passed since I crossed the finish line, but eventually I walked to the waiting buses about two blocks away to retrieve my drop bag with my extra clothing and subway pass. I showed my bib number and a volunteer quickly found my bag and reached out of an open window to hand it to me. Just as I took the bag into my hand, I suddenly felt and heard a loud explosion, which shook inside my chest, and then echoed off the tall downtown buildings. A short time later, a second explosion shook the city, just as inexplicably as the first...
Police, first responders, emergency personnel and volunteers began bringing the wounded to the first aid tent, as emergency vehicles began quickly taking them away to the closest hospital. Police had already begun evacuating the immediate area of destruction, and started expanding the perimeter, urging runners and family members who were not injured to leave the area. The family meeting area had been closed off and cell phones were not working, leaving thousands of runners no way to re-connect with family and friends. The subway had also been shut down, with the only remaining choice being to continue walking away from the destruction. I joined the sea of exhausted, dazed runners walking across the Boston Common, as the ugliness of the afternoon had begun to sink in, along with the confusion and so many unanswered questions.
I found a bench and stopped to rest, while every 5 minutes the sirens of another emergency vehicle wailed through the city streets, and helicopters hovered above the building tops. The runner next to me was texting on a phone, although calls were still not going through. I asked to borrow it, and quickly texted my wife, telling her that I was okay, and would call her later. Unfortunately, she did not get that text until nearly two hours after the explosions. During those two hours, she was bombarded with calls, texts and e-mails, asking if I was okay, but she had no way to know for sure.
Not yet aware of the extent of the damage or injuries, I took time to say a prayer in my heart, asking God to please help those who had been harmed, and to please help me to know what to do or where to go. How would I get back to my host home in south Boston? How could I let my family know that I was okay?.. I walked toward the capital building, where a news reporter was broadcasting a live update. I stopped long enough to hear him say something about "two confirmed deaths" as a result of the bombings, at which point I quickly moved on, not wanting to hear anymore about this nightmarish scene.
As I considered what to do next, I remembered my host, Marian describing the large building in which she worked, so I asked a local if they knew where this building might be. The person told me they thought it might be on the other side of the capital building, so I continued walking in that direction. Finding the building that I was pretty sure was the one, I approached the entry, only to be stopped by Boston Police and Homeland Security officers, all armed with assault rifles. Because it was a government agency, this building was being evacuated, and everyone was being sent home. I watched for my host to come out, but I did not see her, even after everyone had exited the building. I did not have my phone, and did not even know her phone number, and even if I had money for a cab, I was unsure of the address.
I sat down on the sidewalk and leaned up against a fence to contemplate my quandary, when I heard and saw a local woman on the sidewalk actually talking to someone on her cell phone. When she ended her call, I approached her and asked if I could please borrow her phone to let my wife know that I was okay. She said, "Of course" and asked me if I was alright, or if there was something she could do to help. I called Keri, and after 3 or 4 rings, she thankfully answered the "unknown" number with a frantic, "Hello?!" I said, "Hi, I'm okay," at which point I could hear her tears of relief on the other end, as she had apparently not received the text I tried to send just minutes after the bombings. I proceeded to tell her how to get into my e-mail, to find the cell phone number for Marian. She quickly located it, and I asked her to please let everyone know that I was okay, as I would not be near any internet or computer access until tonight at the soonest. We said our goodbyes, and I then called Marian, who was relieved to hear that I was okay. She was walking toward a subway station that she had heard was still in operation. She told me to stay put, and she would come find me, and we could then make our way home together.
I thanked the kind lady, who I know only by the first name of "Teresa," for the use of her phone, as she opened her wallet and tried to give me money to help me get home for the night. I politely declined, telling her that I had found a way, and thanked her again for her kindness and concern. About 15 minutes later, Marian appeared, and greeted me with a hug, glad that we were both safe. We walked toward the subway station, and found it to be open, so we boarded the next Red Line southbound toward her home. While on the subway, cellphones were now working again, and there was steady chatter about the events of the day, as people talked to loved ones to make sure everyone was accounted for and okay.
I finally got to sleep some time in the early hours of the morning. I awoke, packed and prepared for my return flight that afternoon. I thanked Marian for all of her kindness and hospitality, and we exchanged a hug, communicating without words the bond we now shared by the events of April 15th. I boarded the trolley and then made the connection to the subway toward the city. Up to this point, I had remained mostly emotionless since the life-changing events of the previous day. But as I stared out the window toward the passing Boston cityscape, the headlines of a nearby newspaper being read by another passenger caught my eye. Suddenly, without warning, tears filled my eyes, as all of the feelings I had ignored the last day began to surface. Images from the day before returned to my mind - images and feelings which would haunt me in the coming days and months. My emotions swung back and forth from anger, to fear, hopelessness, despair, pain, sadness, disbelief and guilt.
I left the subway at a downtown station, since I had a few hours to explore the city before my return flight. I wore my marathon jacket, not so much as a matter of pride, but more because I did not want the dark events of marathon day to diminish my runner's spirit. As I made my way through the city, the people of Boston went out of their way to ask if I needed help with anything, and if I was okay. I browsed through a vintage book store, and as I checked out, the owner said to me, "I hope you don't have bad feelings toward Boston, and that you will return again." I told her that I had no ill feelings, but rather respect and compassion for the people and city of Boston, as I witnessed so many acts of kindness, some of which I was the recipient. I told her that either as a runner or as a visitor, I would return some day. I walked along the waterfront and saw a number of historic sites, realizing that it would have been nice to have more time to explore.
I made my way back to the airport, which had been shutdown through the night due to the bombings. Thankfully, there were no more delays by the time I arrived, but security had obviously been increased. As I was putting my shoes back on after the security check, I was approached by a homeland security agent, and asked a few questions regarding what I may have seen in the minutes after the bombings, bringing the emotions of those moments back to the surface. As I waited to board my flight, an overhead television news program was blaring the latest reports of the bombings and investigations. They showed a picture of one of the confirmed fatalities, 8 year old Martin Richard, and as the guilt and anger returned to me, I lost it again. People began looking at me, so I took my carry-ons and just started walking until it was time to board.
After boarding my connecting flight form Charlotte to Salt Lake, the captain welcomed all of the Boston runners, resulting in spontaneous applause from the passengers. My assigned seat was on the emergency exit row, so the flight attendant asked the runner seated next to me and myself four different times if we felt able to help with the exit in the event of an emergency. We both replied "yes" each time - but she was obviously still concerned.
The Utah runner seated next to me was a blessing, as we soon discovered that we had quite a bit in common, including a love for flight in the form of hang gliding. We talked at length about the path each of our lives had taken leading up to yesterday's marathon. It seemed helpful to talk with another runner about the events during and after the bombings, to see that I was not the only one feeling the way I was after our shared experiences.
I continued to run, but I noticed that my miles were now motivated by anger, as I began to question God. Why would God allow me, a 47 year old runner, who had already experienced life to its fullest, as full of flaws as I am, to survive the events of that tragic day - but allow an innocent boy, with his entire life ahead of him, to be killed in an instant? "Where were You, God?! Where were You?!"
I found myself beginning to seek isolation, and avoiding loud or noisy public places. I would not watch any news programing, and avoided the media in general. Sudden loud noises would terrify me, and bring back a flood of thoughts, images and feelings. The days around Independence day were especially difficult, as I yearned for silence. Certain sights, sounds, smells or words seemed to trigger all sorts of negative reactions in me. The vivid nightmares came more and more frequently, causing me to wake suddenly yelling, afraid to go back to sleep. The voice mailbox in my cell phone was still full from that April day. I could not bring myself to listen to them, but could not seem to delete them either.
My guilt and anger intensified, as I felt bad for being so negatively affected, even though hundreds of other runners and spectators had been so much closer than I was, and had so much more severe outward consequences...I found myself in a downward spiral, and a hole deeper and darker than I had been in since my pre-recovery days, over 9 years ago. The more I questioned God, the more I knew that my Recovery was at risk. I found myself physically unable to get out of bed and face the day, and began to make preparations to quit my work, at times wishing that I could just sleep and not wake up.
I knew that these secrets would keep me sick, and eventually destroy me, if I did not do something. At this lowest point, in desperation, I reached out for help. First from my wife and family, then from clergy, then a few friends, then from past counselors and professionals. I made it clear that I did not want sympathy which would just lead to self-pity, but at the same time acknowledged that I needed help to get through this, and back on solid footing.
With some time off, I was able to keep my job, as I learned how to better understand and deal with the very real emotional roller coaster I had been riding. I learned that God does not cause bad things to happen to good people, but that good people can be hurt by the choices of others. Blaming God for acts of evil cowardice is not rational thinking. I learned that the atonement of Jesus Christ, is not just for sinners, but also to help carry us through the inevitable trials and pain that we all face in this earthly journey we call life. I learned that I am never alone, and that, at some point, we all need help when life steps up and smacks us down hard. I have also learned, that the answers to some of life's questions may not come immediately, and some things we may just never know.
As I have learned these difficult lessons over the past year, I have also found my running motivations to have gradually shifted from anger, to feelings of victory - not for me personally, but for good to triumph over evil and the runner's spirit to prevail. When certain perpetrators selected the Boston Marathon as the focus of their attack, they messed with the wrong Marine - marathon runners, their families and supporters, and the great people of Boston!
I now have come to realize that there were a number of reasons I was at Boston in 2013, exactly where I was, when the bombs went off. Many of these reasons are the lessons I have learned as a result of this past year's experiences. Some of them may be to write this 'blog posting, or to help others with similar struggles. Part of my challenge, is to discover why I have gone through these things, and also, why I get to return this year, when many were turned away.
I have also learned that life is too fragile and short to go through it looking backward, just wishing you had at least tried to accomplish a dream or two. As I witness runners of all ages, abilities, shapes and sizes train for and run marathons, I have come to realize that the champions are those who dare to dream, and then cross that starting line!
As Boston 2014 approaches, the media is full of incredible stories of triumph over evil, and not only runners, but countless people impacted by the Boston bombings have come back stronger than ever, with new resolve to make the best of their struggles, and help others along the way. Although it will no doubt be an emotional event, I am looking forward to creating new Boston memories this year, and to the additional healing it will bring. Boston 2014 is, in my opinion, not just about the victory of good over evil, but also about the triumph of the runner's spirit, the American spirit, and the human spirit. It will clearly demonstrate, that there is innate goodness in most people, and a rare few who seek to harm others in evil, destructive ways.
This year, I run with Gratitude in my heart, not only to family, friends and the people of Boston, but also to God, for helping me through hard times, and giving me the strength, desire and opportunity to keep on running, and return to Boston. I pray daily that I may use this blessing to somehow help others along the way, to find a portion of the grace and peace He has granted me.