90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Boston

A woman carries a girl from their home as a SWAT team searching for a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings enters the building in Watertown, Mass., Friday, April 19, 2013. (Charles Krupa/AP)

An author friend writes a tribute to his country on his Facebook page. A stay-at-home mom, guarding her bevy of children, becomes a citizen reporter on the scene in Watertown, tweeting about the view from her backyard of snipers staking out a position on the roof of her garden shed. An otherwise non-aspiring writer is inspired to try his hand at capturing his version of this past week’s dreamy miasma of exhausting, hand-wringing events.

As we Boston-area residents have been recovering from the Boston Marathon bombings, the lockdown, and from our media hangovers, out gushed the words, like a fresh wound. Not spoken words, which can evaporate as soon as they are voiced. But stories, written down.

This urge to participate and to tell one’s individual story humanizes pain and makes big, sweeping events human-scaled. We cope with trauma by injecting ourselves into the wider story.

Sure, we’ve all experienced the flurry of hastily dashed-off texts, sent to loved ones to check in, to say, “We are safe.” But even before the dust settled on Boylston Street, I’d noticed a burst of blog posts, Facebook posts, and other personal accounts popping up on the Internet. Those longer stories that cannot be contained in a mere tweet.

All these written words prove our need to find our place within the events. To be part of the story, to insert our own heart and mind into this larger narrative. Who doesn’t want to comment, to communicate, to reflect, to engage in some way? Or, as Neil Diamond himself belted out at Fenway Park, to use words as, “Hands, touching hands / Reaching out, touching me, touching you”?

This urge to participate and to tell one’s individual story humanizes pain and makes big, sweeping events human-scaled. The tradition is as old as Homer and the Icelandic Sagas. We cope with trauma by injecting ourselves into the wider story. The gesture says, “I, too, was there.” The gesture also says, “This is how I process grief.” Story helps transform chaos, crisis, and helplessness into something we can retell, and therefore transcend.

It’s the same phenomenon I noticed after the events of September 11. I was living in Paris at the time and my coterie of expat writers, myself included, felt moved to write our version of events — to be part of the story that was unfolding and rippling across the Atlantic. I wanted to document exactly where I stood while the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I wanted to record what I felt, what I knew, and how I might be changed.

This time, as with 9/11, I had no personal link to the two bombers, or to the blasts. But even for me, I harbor one smidgen of connection: a sort of equation that functions like Six Degrees of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev between me and the events, that makes this all feel more real.

This past week’s events reinforced, again, this basic truth: In spite of the instantaneous, multi-platform, transmedia multi-verse of imagery and spectacle by which we subsist, the act of storytelling retains its simple and astonishing power.

I have a friend whose au pair was down at the marathon finishing line, watching the events from the sideline with his young son. She is Mexican, and they stood under Mexican flag. Then, because the crowd was too much to handle, they left the finish line and were soon long gone from the area. But in that exact location where they stood, 15 minutes later, the first bomb exploded.

I was not there. But this story collapses space and time. This story brings me closer. Closer because I want to bring the terror closer to me, to feel it more deeply.

This past week’s events reinforced, again, this basic truth: In spite of the instantaneous, multi-platform, transmedia multi-verse of imagery and spectacle by which we subsist, the act of storytelling retains its simple and astonishing power.

So, let us take up our pens and pixels. Let us get it down. Try, and try again, for the right words. For yourself, for others, for posterity. So that we all may know what it was like for you to be there, the week of April 15, 2013, in Boston, in Massachusetts, in America, at the troubled dawn of the 21st century. And how we persevered.

Tags: Boston, Boston Marathon Bombings, Writing

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.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://twitter.com/fufuandoreos OBEHI JANICE

    Words definitely saved me last week. And they’ll continue to lift me up this week and next.

  • David

    Well said. I stood with my significant other in the exact spot where the first bomb went off but left right after the award ceremony, almost three hours before the blast. It occurred to me, as I’m sure it did your friend’s au pair, that, had the terrorists chosen another time, in my case a logical time to get maximum media impact, my girlfriend and I could have been among the wounded, maimed or killed. On reflection, though I escaped the unspeakable fate of so many others, this even more profoundly ties me to them and to every person in that crowd, in this state, in this nation and in the world who also had the raw feeling of vulnerability this act evoked. At the same time, this connection gave me the courage and determination to say to those who would carry out such a heinous act, “you will not win, not here, not in my town, not ever.” I will not let fear keep me from carrying on with my life in the same manner I carried on with it before any of this happened.

  • mkb

    Hate us for our patriotism, but you attacked a truly international tradition.

    Hate us for our capitalism, but you attacked a competition where 23,000
    people reach for a goal that has nothing to do with money.
    Hate us for our military might, but you attacked people who train alone, without weapons, for a personal, solitary victory.
    Hate us for our lethargy, yet you attack a race so arduous, its legend has lasted 2,500 years.

    Hate us for our excess, but you attacked a sport that strips a person
    down to his core, and drives him to pursue nothing but the road in front
    of him.
    Hate us for our godlessness, our government, and our greed.
    But we will go home tonight to our families, our prayers, and our
    supportive communities.
    It is a time of complex issues, histories, and seeming lack of solutions – but this is Boston. And it’s spring dammit.

    • rich4321

      Bravo!

      • Anne Hudson

        Well and movingly said.

    • wbq

      Beautiful! I am taking it for my students in my first class since the bombing. Thank you

  • EvelynKrieger

    “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

  • Ethan Gilsdorf

    thank you all for these smart and moving comment — Ethan

  • arusticat

    I would like to contrast our reaction to this event where, in the grand scheme of things, few were physically injured, the damage to property not great, to the tragedy in Texas that affected many more lives (ie. the explosion in Texas at the fertilizer plan)t.

    I am afraid that our outpouring here shows we can’t see beyond our own neighborhoods. We bemoan the shortcomings that have us getting behind stem cell research only when one’s husband is diagnosed with alzheimer’s or begin to understand same-sex marriage as a basic human right only when one of our children come out of the closet.

    We seem to have a geographical short-sightedness that has us in awe of how close we came to being injured – or in outrage about people let into our country only to harm us – when so many lives were lost and a neighborhood, a small town really, was destroyed on our periphery.

    • Isobel Clinton

      Not to mention, as no one has, the 55 people who died in similar bombings in 6 different once-peaceful cities in Iraq (including Mosul, the modern Nineva) on Monday April 15. A day like many others in the country our “patriotism,” our “excess” and especially our “capitalism” went to save.

    • Geoff Dutton

      arusticat echoes what I wrote the day after the twin tragedies. (see http://cowbird.com/story/66594/) The Texas blast was 1,000 times the size of the one that Tim McVeigh set off in Tulsa using the same agricultural chemical. You can bet that the destruction of half of West, Texas would have been a really big deal a terrorist connection been alleged. It’s not just our parochial viewpoints, though. It’s also how events get contextualized and whether what news media choose to excite or assuage our collective fears, grief and anxieties.

TOP