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An emergency responder and volunteers, including Carlos Arredondo in the cowboy hat, push Jeff Bauman in a wheel chair after he was injured in an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Maybe the flames spared Carlos Arredondo so that, nine years later, Carlos Arredondo could save Jeff Bauman.

In the competing narratives of cowardice and courage emerging from the Boston Marathon bombings, perhaps none has the redemptive power of the man in the cowboy hat.

In the competing narratives of cowardice and courage emerging from the Boston Marathon bombings, perhaps none has the redemptive power of the man in the cowboy hat.

That hat stayed in place when an adrenalin-fueled Arredondo scaled the barriers separating the bloody sidewalk from Boylston Street where the 52-year-old peace activist had been distributing American flags at the finish line of Boston’s iconic road race. He beat out flames from the blast that had ignited Bauman’s shirt. He tied a makeshift tourniquet around one of the 27-year-old’s two partially severed legs. With emergency workers, he settled Jeff into a wheelchair and sped him to the nearest ambulance. A photographer captured the frantic run.

But, were it not for the quick action of others and the skill of trauma surgeons at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on another tragic day in August 2004, Carlos Arredondo might not have been in Boston on Monday to save Jeff Bauman.

Arredondo was living in Hollywood, Florida with his second wife, Melida, when word came that sniper fire in Iraq had claimed the life of his 20-year-old son, Lance Corporal Alex Arredondo. When the Marines delivered the news, Carlos climbed into the soldiers’ van with a can of gasoline and a propane torch and set himself afire. He suffered burns on more than 25 percent of his body.

Ten days later, medical attendants wheeled him into St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Jamaica Plain in a hospital bed to attend the funeral of his oldest son. Soon after, Arredondo moved back to Boston and become active in the anti-war movement, marching in demonstrations and distributing small flags at public events. That is what he was doing on Monday when the bombs went off.

A photo of Alex and Brian. (Courtesy of the Arredondo Family)

A photo of Alex and Brian. (Courtesy of the Arredondo Family)

We are reading a lot this week about what a resilient city Boston is, about how the bombers messed with the wrong town. But that is just the kind of hubris that had us chanting “USA” and invading a country that had no connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a country where Alex Arredondo died on August 25, 2004. It is just the kind of mindless reflex that had witnesses fingering “a Saudi-looking” man for suspicion because he was running from the blast, just as they were.

Cities are not resilient, people are. And, sometimes, they are not.

On December 19, 2011, four months after the dedication of a U.S. Post Office in Jamaica Plain to the memory of Alex Arredondo, his younger brother, Brian, took his own life at his mother’s home in Norwood. He never recovered from the dual shocks the awful day he learned that his soldier brother was dead of a sniper’s bullet and his grieving father was in critical condition with self-inflicted burns. Brian’s suicide is as important to remember as Carlos’ survival.

Cities are not resilient, people are.

Carlos Arredondo once told The Boston Globe that his son, Alex, had written him a letter in which he confided that he was “not afraid of dying. I am more afraid of what will happen to all the ones that I love if something happens to me.”

Something happened on Monday. It happened in only the most abstract way to this city. It happened in the blood and bone of those who were killed and injured, those who survive them and those who witnessed the horror. If we want to honor that suffering, we ought to can the talk of Boston’s proud history, its mythical toughness and its legendary resilience. We ought to remember the Arredondo family, in all its complexity, and leave room in our anger and grief for silence and awe.

Related:

Tags: Boston, Boston Marathon Bombings, Middle East

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • AnneMBoston

    Thank you, Eileen. Tough talk is foolish. The cycles of grief and loss, grace and courage are mysterious. That one man’s experience should comprehend an attempt to burn away his own pain and a reflexive plunge into smoke and fire to help someone else is its own amazing comment on human complexity and resilience.

  • melissa hinckley

    This is one of the most poignant, and intelligent reflections on this man, his family, and what happened Monday. I am upset by those using the “wrong town” phrase, because it suggests that there is a “right town”, and there is not. Your point about resiliency is well taken. Thank you.

  • Kristina

    Just an amazing interview, thank you Carlos for you kindness.

  • http://twitter.com/VanguardScout VanguardScout

    This is one of the best narrative pieces I’ve seen so far on the Marathon bombing. Great job, Eileen. Someone should make a doc on this man and his family’s story.

  • Jasoturner

    That is one hell of a story.

  • TruthPath76

    An extremely well-written and thought provoking article. It really touched me. I hope it makes people stop & think because reacting in anger and fear has not gotten mankind anywhere positive.

  • http://twitter.com/TheSizzlah Steve Sizz

    Very well written. I remember the news when Carlos’ first son died and feeling conflicted over his reaction. We all may not agree with his activism, but fortunately most of us will never have to experience what Carlos went through. I hope he has found a sense of peace and that the victim he saved will find the same strength to carry on.

  • http://twitter.com/Allisor Allisor Landry

    Has anyone heard how Bauman is doing? I’ve been haunted by his ashen face.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.sandeen Eric Sandeen

      From AP news reports, I’m afraid that both his legs were amputated.

      • http://twitter.com/Allisor Allisor Landry

        I went and googled him and found out his parents live in the same town as my mom. I wish him the best in his recovery. The night after the bombing I woke up multiple times thinking about that picture.

  • Geoff

    Cities aren’t resilient? Yeah, right: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad

    • Melissa

      Citing Wikipedia is always a great way to get a point across and will give it much credibility. Also, I have no idea what sarcasm is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kristofer-Peterson/100003624673897 Kristofer Peterson

    I hate to pick nits, but in honor of Lance Arredondo, he was a Marine. A soldier is a different thing. Deserving of its own respect, but Alex Arredondo was a Marine.

  • scooby

    got news for ya, that “saudi national” is being deported next Tuesday as a matter of national security. Look it up. Breaking news, doubt you`ll find it. Also, as an odd “conicidence”, Pres Obama took an un-scheduled call from the Prince of Saudi Arabia today. No conspiracy theorist, but sometimes jumping to conclusions lands you right on top of the correct conclusion

    • Friend of the REAL Scooby

      I had a dog named Scooby. You’re a disgrace to the name. Quit watching Faux News.

    • Leftcoaster

      got news for ya, you are wrong

  • TheBigM

    Potentially decent write-up ruined by the writer’s interjections.

  • http://twitter.com/ekdikeo Eric B

    “But that is just the kind of hubris that had us chanting “USA” and
    invading a country that had no connection to the terrorist attacks of
    September 11, 2001″

    This is where you are wrong — it is not our pride in our locations that had the US invading a country that had no connection to the attacks against us. It was our seriously mistaken leaders that had major chips on their shoulders and grudges that they wanted to see that nation pay for.

    It is not the people of the USA that attacked Iraq, it was the leaders of the USA that attacked Iraq. Leaders that are no longer in place, thankfully.

  • Michele McDonald

    So great to be reading you here. This is writing that matters. Thank you, Eileen.

  • Emily Wheeler

    Even as Obama gave his deeply felt, eloquent speech and I felt proud of my president, I wish there had been a way for Eileen’s quiet, brilliant, little one-liner to be heard by more: “Cities are not resilient, people are. And, sometimes, they are not.” Thanks.

  • RJM68

    Well put, though I’m not sure of the natural correlation between national pride or “hubris” and argued missteps in foreign policy. Your more relevant point is leaving “room in our anger and grief for silence and awe.” I’ve got nothing against hearing a crowd belt out the National Anthem at a Bruins game, but in the end it’s just a decent sound bite. Yeah, Boston’s a tough town, but it isn’t like some skinny guy with a backpack bomb is going to stop off at the local firehouse and look for a fight on his way to the detonation.

  • PaulD

    He’s had a tough life. I hope he can find some solace in the fact that he acted with great courage and quite possibly saved a life. Bravo Mr. Arredondo.

  • Lynn Ellison-Murphy

    Thank you for a beautiful tribute to Mr. Arredondo’s courage: Courage to come out of multiple tragedies, and courage to run toward it in such a selfless manner.

  • http://twitter.com/trojanboy123 J.James

    How is he a hero? how come no ones giving two raps about the pictures of EVRY ONE ELSE rushing around to help and the whole time the carlos is standing there un rolling his prop flag and getting the wrinkles out of it JUST before it was he role on the set. and THEN! he runs up and didnt even help push the guy in the wheel chair AND JUST HAS ONE HAND ON THE ARM REST FOR THE PHOTO OP” and the funy part is in the UNEDITED video of them rushing off one of the other first responders that isnt in on whats going on. Runs up after them when he sees the dude in the wheel chair was forgetting his prosthetic and he runs up and you can see the guy stick the left prosthetic leg over the stump and lets them continue on there way. WOOPS http://i302.photobucket.com/albums/nn84/gempix/Boston-Marathon-psyop-cowboy-flag-hold.jpg

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