Credit: AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo

'Run': A Mother Reflects on the Boston Marathon Bombing

April 16, 2013

We had just rounded the corner away from the Mandarin Hotel in front of the Boston Marathon finish line when the explosion sounded.

A minute earlier, my husband, son and I were making our way through the Prudential Mall crowds. My husband, several steps ahead of us, and me complaining to my son about the blisters on my feet.

"If I see a shoe store in the mall, I'll stop and buy a pair of comfortable shoes," I told my 10-year-old. "You and your dad can go ahead, and I'll meet you."

I had been on my feet all day watching the marathon with my family, and wasn't sure my sore feet could make it all the way to the far-off garage where we had parked.

Suddenly, the explosion. The loud bang seemed to come right through the glassed Boylston Street mall entrance, not far from where we stood. There was a massive boom, followed by a thumping noise, and then, screams. The crowd started to run towards the back of the mall.

There are two moments from this event that will haunt me.

The first one -  the image of my young child standing still among the panicked stampede. His motionless body, his eyes pleading to me for answers.

'What is going on? What should I do?'

"Run," I yelled at him. "Run".

And we ran. My husband, son and I followed a crowd through a side exit that let us out towards Huntington Ave, on the back end of the mall. At that point, we weren't sure if there was a gunman following us, or if we were running towards another threat. But we kept going, as far away from the Copley area and the finish line as we could.

I limped behind my husband, because of the blisters, and because I'm not in good enough shape to endure an extended sprint. But my son insisted on staying by my side, lagging behind with me. He was worried about me not making it.

It was instantly clear we were in the midst of a disaster. People crying, frantically trying to reach loved ones, the street corner buzz about a bomb going off, and the incessant surround sound of sirens. Every ambulance, fire engine, police vehicle and first responder seemed to be rushing to the finish line.

We made our way through Kenmore Square as optimistic runners were being met by a mix of cheers and tears. News had started to spread that catastrophe awaited at the 26-mile mark, and that the race was being canceled.

Earlier in the day, I had used those runners as an example of endurance and perseverance. I always relished taking my son to the Marathon so he could see the beauty of strangers cheering for strangers, and feel the communal good-will of spectators applauding not just the elite athletes, but also the unlikely ones.

The Boston Marathon is, and always has been, the quintessential family event.

Finally, safely at home, I made the mistake of turning on the news to hear updates on what had happened. When someone reported that the first casualty was an 8-year-old-boy, I heard my son gasp. A child, not much younger than him, hadn't been spared the nightmare my son thought he had narrowly escaped.

That gasp is the other moment I'll never forget.

I want to be able to protect my child from calamity. I want, when my son stops and looks to me for an answer, to be able to give him one better than just "run". I want to keep my child safe, and prevent him from knowing that while he's home watching television, another child has been senselessly killed. And that what separates one from the other is often pure, tragic luck.

But I also know that gasp was the connection my son felt towards this boy, the heartbreak this mother feels for the mother who lost her baby, and the empathy that allows first responders to heal, helpers to help, and the whole of us to come together.

Through inspiration, through tragedy, and through our enduring kinship with one another, the Boston Marathon is, and always will be, the quintessential family event.

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