One person said yesterday, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” These are the words that are helping me to try and not give in to the fear that is threatening to paralyze us all in our state of grief.
Marathon Monday should have been what every kid has dreamed about since deciding to attend Boston College – the most exciting day on campus. Because I was the proud sister of a Boston Marathon runner during my freshman year, I was stationed at Mile 16 and, later, at Mile 26 to cheer her on. So, this was my first experience being at the famous Mile 21.
I don’t think words can describe the scene: the BC students screaming themselves hoarse for friends and strangers, the slapping of hands with someone who looked like they were going to cry from a combination of exhaustion or elation, the chanting of “USA” each time a person in uniform passed by.
Eventually, down the sloping decline after the notorious Heartbreak Hill came two special girls – Colleen and Josephine. Although they don’t know me very well, I know they were greatly admired by their friends for running this marathon. As they both play on the rugby team, their teammates (and myself despite being an ultimate player) had all worn matching shirts to show our support of these two girls. And when they came running down, you better believe their teammates hopped the fence and clapped and cheered. We ran ahead of them to encourage their BC classmates to cheer for these dedicated Campus School runners. And, obviously, it wasn’t long before they both had tears streaming down their cheeks.
It was like a dream – watching people flash by and hearing the screams. I was passing by the sights of Comm Ave without being able to take in a single one. And, suddenly, I was snapped back to reality by my sister, the one who had run the Marathon last year. She had appeared out of nowhere in her 2012 bright orange Boston Marathon jacket. My sister was chasing after me in Cleveland Circle, and she was telling me to stop running. She told me there had been explosions at the finish line. I heard her. I know I did. But, it was so unimaginable that I couldn’t stop running. Josephine and Colleen needed to finish. They were so close.
Explosions? In the state of joy that had pervaded the day so far, it was incomprehensible that something bad could have happened – exactly at the place we were all running to. People were beginning to panic; you could see it in the eyes of the spectators. And just like that, two people, who I love very much, ran ahead to help an older woman stay motivated in the time of confusion. Their act of kindness was necessary, but I didn’t know they had left. I didn’t know where they were. I was now running to find them just as much as I was running for Colleen and Josephine.
I now know what my mother must have felt like when my sister went missing at the Flocktown Spring Fair. To be totally blindsided and feel like, in one instant, you have lost a part of your heart in a constantly changing, blurring crowd. To feel totally frozen inside but forced to keep moving on the outside lest you miss something. I thank God they both returned safely within five minutes.
Colleen and Josephine – I am sorry that I stopped running with both of you somewhere between Mile 24 and Mile 25. Please know that I wish I had your strength, your courage, and your resilience. You two are an inspiration, as are Lily and Cali, who never faltered in their determination to help encourage you both in those last 5 miles.
Walking back was how I imagine it must be like to wake up the day after the apocalypse. Gone were the cheering crowds and colorful signs. All that remained were police officers, several runners who were running towards a finish line they would never cross, a couple men and women crying into their hands. Anyone else was just trying to call their loved ones on their cell phones. Although we hear it often, it was in a moment, one that tests your soul, that you recognize just how important your loved ones are. Because I know for sure at that moment, no one was answering emails or calling clients or trying to finish a homework assignment. We returned to BC and sat around the television. We could do nothing but cry, hug those closest, text friends, call family, and just hold on to each other.
Although unrelated to the tragedy in Boston, another community I have called home, Villa Walsh Academy, is grieving a personal loss. I learned from my sister’s text message earlier today that Tom Straut, a caring grandfather-like figure to any and every girl at our school, had passed away. So much more than the school’s bus driver and care taker, Tom was perhaps one of the kindest gentlemen any person could be lucky enough to know. He always took the time to congratulate you after an incredible victory, cheer you up after a tough loss, or, once you had graduated, ask keenly about how well you were doing at your school.
After one track meet probably in my Junior year, Tom drove my teammates and I back to Villa. I told Tom he didn’t have to wait with me. My mother wouldn’t be coming for a few hours as she had to work. He was so genuinely worried about me being left by myself he gave me his phone number, so that I could call him if I felt like I needed someone there. I went back to doing my homework. Tom didn’t need to give me his number. As soon as he got home, he turned around and came back to Villa just to watch my mother pick me up to take me home safely later that night. As we drove away, she and I reflected on the truly special person Tom was.
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” We grieve for those who we have never met who perished at the finish line. We grieve for the gravely injured. We grieve for the loss of safety and security. We grieve for Tom. I grieve.
As I have thought about those words yesterday and today, I find it no coincidence that each of Colleen and Josephine’s teammates wore a t-shirt with a picture of their two friends with a caption reading: “The struggle is nothing but love.”
The struggle we face now, our grief, is nothing but love. Love and concern for our friends, our families, the runners, their families, and most of all, our community. This struggle is dedicated to Colleen and Josephine. To my friends who I knew were running: Megan, Jonathan, Christina, Paul, Kate, Emily, Leah, Suzie. To my friends who I didn’t know were running: Nicaela, Michael, Dani, Christine, Levi, Nicole and so many more. To the runners who ran for personal glory and those who ran for the Campus School and other causes much bigger than themselves. To Tom.
Pray for those who continue to love deeply. It will always be a struggle.