Jackie MacMullan, on the Marathon Tragedy and the Time It Will Take To Heal

A return to normalcy is what we all want.  In Boston today, in New York City for the years following 9/11.  In New Orleans after Katrina.  In countless places on earth where civilians have witnessed devastation.  The question becomes, what is normal?  What can we expect?  How do we move on?  How long do we reflect on the things we can longer take for granted?  I’m fortunate enough not to have known anyone who was injured or killed in Monday’s explosions.  I haven’t lived in Boston since 2003.  I don’t have personal connections to the race itself.  But I was momentarily terrified when I realized my brother, my nephew and my nephew-in-law, could have been nearby when the explosions occurred.  They were at the other annual Boston tradition that takes place on Patriot’s Day, the 11am Red Sox game.  Thankfully, they were already headed back home on the T when chaos took over the streets.

Thanks to Eric Black for pointing me toward Jackie MacMullan’s column for ESPNBoston.  MacMullan shares her personal experiences with the marathon as a child, then as a mother, focusing on the intimacy of the race, and the spirit of the city.

Ten years after that, in 1993, I was a spectator again, this time as a new mother of a 13-month-old daughter. We chose a spot along Commonwealth Avenue near Brae Burn Country Club to watch the race, not far from where my father had taken me as a child.

We cheered as defending champion Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya, a three-time winner of the Boston Marathon, approached us wearing the coveted bib No. 1. To our surprise, he abruptly stopped, veered off the course and stopped in the grass directly in front of us.

He appeared to be laboring, so my husband, Michael, offered him a drink from our cooler. He gratefully accepted, then told us he dropped out because he was cramping, and if he pushed to finish it would hamper his future races.

Hussein lingered a few minutes longer, thanked us for our hospitality, and even posed for a picture with our daughter (which immediately found its way into the front of her baby scrapbook).

I revisited that snapshot in the aftermath of Monday’s terror. It was a moment of intimacy that didn’t even seem all that remarkable at the time. It was the Boston Marathon — ourmarathon — the pride of our big town or small city, depending on which lenses you chose to view Boston through. I imagine no one will ever enjoy such an experience again. Surely now if a world-class runner drops out of the race, he will be immediately whisked away by a necessary gaggle of security personnel.

The Boston Marathon will never be the same, and neither will the great people of the city of Boston. That is a fact we will wrestle with in the days and months and years ahead.

We will be brave for the woman who knelt and prayed along the mangled bars of the metal barriers, for the elderly runner who was literally blown off his feet to the asphalt, dazed and disoriented by a blast that simply made no sense.

The first step in regaining our faith, and our trust, is to reopen the streets, to re-establish our community as one that stands together. The Bruins will do their part tonight to help lift the pall that has enveloped us. Soon the Celtics will begin their playoff run, and the Red Sox will look to build on the Farrell Factor that has wooed us back to Fenway.

We will cheer for our teams, as we always have, with fervor that some say is more passionate than required. We will put the tattered pieces of April 15, 2013, behind us, and we will be stronger because no one can destroy the spirit of our great city.

Yes, we will do all of that, I am certain.

Just not by tonight.

Moving beyond Martin Richard’s dancing brown eyes is going to take some time.


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