Marathon Bombings Show Randomness of Who Lives, Who Dies

April 18, 2013

Randomness. That word sticks in my mind in the aftermath of the bombings near the Boston Marathon finish line.

The randomness of it all when it came to who was injured and who was not, who died and who survived. The randomness of who decided to watch the marathon that day and who chose instead to spend a day at a beach, a zoo, or Revolutionary War reenactments.

Yes, the attacks were intentional. But what strikes me as random is who happened to be where when. Any of us, especially those of who live in the Boston area, could have chosen to head toward the marathon and jostle our way as close as we could to watch runners at the finish.

I thought fleetingly of taking my 5-year-old son to downtown Boston that day, but instead opted for a day at Crane’s Beach. At home, unless my son is not around, my husband and I do not talk about the bombings. We do not want to shatter our little one’s innocence, though the innocence of so many young people was shattered on Monday. Already, the 9/11 attacks are not as fresh in our memories. Today’s fifth- and sixth-graders are not old enough to remember them. They are old enough to remember Monday.

Why write of randomness? Because as intentional as the terroristic act was, the attackers did not aim their bombs at particular people. The three dead victims are an 8-year-old boy, a 23-year-old graduate student at Boston University, and a 29-year-old woman originally from Medford. I didn’t know any of them, but two have connections to my communities. I teach part-time at BU, which is mourning the killed student Lingzi Lu and monitoring the progress of her friend who was injured. The mother of 29-year-old Krystle Campbell worked at Harvard Business School and is close friends with members of my temple in Lexington. I have no connection to 8-year-old Martin Richard, but it does not matter.

I heard the news about the bombings as I drove home from the beach with my son asleep in his booster seat in the back. Like so many others, I scrambled to find out if people I knew might be near the marathon site were ok. One was a college friend I just saw again for the first time in 25 years. She came to Boston to watch a runner friend. She had said she was going to the finish line. The other person was the daughter of another college friend. I thought, too, of my former Boston Globe colleagues who would be covering the marathon. All were fine. But what if?

It may seem self-serving to connect this terroristic attack to tragedies of my past. I do that just to make the point about the randomness of tragedy. One day, your family is whole; the next day, it is changed forever. My 23-year-old brother Kevin decided to drive all the way through from California to Colorado after a week’s vacation in 1986. At some point, he fell asleep at the wheel, and his jeep rolled over a cliff. He was killed of massive head injuries. If he had stopped for coffee somewhere, maybe the accident would never have happened. If he had been driving on a less curvy road, maybe his jeep would have just rolled into a ditch. When he was 16, he fell asleep at the wheel and woke up when his lime green Barracuda hit a fence post. He was unharmed.

A few years before, a driver blacked out and hit another car, instantly killing my Great-Aunt Bessie and severely injuring my Grandma Pearl. Grandma survived.  What if Bessie, who was driving, had chosen another road that day? What if that driver, who had a history of blackouts, had chosen to stay home?

On Monday near the finish line, the deaths and injuries happened at random. People standing near the victims survived. Runners finished at various times based on their particular performance that day. Some people who were there may have come on the spur of the moment. Others might have made a last-minute decision.

The number of casualties on Monday is lighter than other attacks in our country and elsewhere in recent years. I don’t call that lucky. I call it another example of randomness. There is nothing lucky about what happened in Boston this week. Maybe people who stood near the victims feel a sense of luck that they survived. But I wonder how many more feel guilty that the bombs took the person next to them and they were okay.

I wasn’t sure whether to write at all, but when something like this happens, I must write. It is my way, I guess, of catharsis. This isn’t my personal tragedy, but it is, in a sense, everyone’s heartache this week.

I used to work full-time as a journalist. If I were still working in a newsroom, I would have been helping in some way with the coverage. Instead, Monday was a day off from pre-school for my son Simon and one of our Mommy and Me days.

My husband posted some of his thoughts on Facebook that night. It is his last few lines that I loved. “Simon and I planted carrots that evening. I hope that is what he remembers.”

For those of us old enough to remember, it will be hard to shake away the images. We will remember the photos and video of people running away from the scene in terror and of medical responders running toward the victims. We will remember the pictures of severely injured people. We will remember, too, the photos of the victims when they were alive. The one that sticks with me the most is a photo of Martin Richard holding a poster he made in school. The words: “No more hurting people” and “peace.” Was he writing about Newtown? Was he writing about 9/11? Was he just writing his wish for the universe?

Why write about this and throw in the word randomness? Because it is random who was killed and who was spared. It is random who is now a mourner, and who is not. It is this randomness that haunts me. What if, what if, what if? Who cannot help but ask that question this week?

I felt uneasy driving into Boston on Tuesday to teach. It was a much different feeling than I had on Sept. 11, 2001, when I drove into downtown Dallas to my job as a reporter as most of the city evacuated to get away from the skyscrapers. The 9/11 attacks happened in another state. This one happened in my state and in the city where I work and often play. I was on Boylston Street right near the finish line over the weekend. I walked by hundreds of people laughing, talking. A street musician played Irish jigs on his fife.

Parents are writing on my hometown’s listserv that they will not take their children into Boston as planned this week. They do not want their young children to see the police presence and ask questions. I understand that worry. I don’t want my young child to think he should be afraid of just walking down a street. I don’t want him to know that this week, I had that feeling.

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