“Can the people who went confirm they are safe??”
“Palmer is fine, and finished 26.2!!!!”
“Please please be safe.”
“Was Calvin there?”
These were the first four of 23 emails sent to one of my panlists mid-Monday afternoon. For the next two hours, the panlist became an informal roll call: Each person who was MIA at the Boston Marathon checked in, said they were okay, and asked about the others who we still could not reach.
This is not the usual content you’d find on this panlist. The conversation amongst this group typically revolves around potential purchases of gin fountains, number of forties needed for the coming Friday, why volunteering at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival is a must-do. There is sarcasm and jokes and plenty of the lets-go-out-Friday-night-and-get-a-little-crazy kind of camaraderie. None of the emotional stuff of this Monday — not much, anyway.
The Boston bombing ended three lives and is still threatening at least thirty more. It rocked a city known for its pride, brownstone buildings and traditional New England values. It ripped off legs from those who had pushed them to their limit in the Marathon, scarred children, splattered too much red on a street that was once known simply as Common Street. For us at Yale, it brought us down to reality after the hockey win, reminding us that we could not let the unity we felt on Saturday end that night.
So we texted loved ones, even those who didn’t live in Boston, just to reaffirm an often-implied message: “I love you and I miss you.” Stories of people helping other people abounded — policemen rushing toward smoke, marathon runners continuing past the finish line to give blood at Mass Gen, thousands signing a Google Doc to volunteer their houses to runners stranded in the city. Two Iraqi veterans donning their uniforms in the heat of the moment to carry the injured out into the cool air.
If there is a silver lining to the Boston bombing, it is that this Monday, we stopped pretending that we didn’t need other people.
We live in a college and a country that values independence above almost everything else. Our conception of a perfect person seems like someone who is detached from emotion and deals with issues behind the privacy of their own door. Here, unless we are five shots deep, revealing our feelings toward one another is a big no-no. To be cool is to be unaffected. Maturity, we are taught, is the ability to live on your own without needing anyone’s help.
On Monday night, I called my best friend from high school, Nick, who goes to Emerson in Boston. He was skateboarding down Boylston St. and was a block away from the first bomb when it exploded.
“So you saw people just … bleeding … on the streets?” I asked.
“How did you deal?”
“I was lucky, man. I got on the phone with my dad before the phones didn’t work. Just his voice, you know? He told me to go back home, and I did.”
‘Just his voice.’ In the middle of chaos and sirens and ruins, Nick stopped. Before he ran for cover, he stood there, in the midst of it all, just to call his dad — a person a thousand miles away with no knowledge of the incident.
Death, it seems, make us do quite irrational things. But it also strips our lives down to its bare essentials. In the face of rawness, we know our priorities: to help others or to get help, to reach for a human connection, no matter how far.
If there is one thing we can learn from this tragedy, it is that we can stop pretending we can do it all on our own. Panlists, texts, calls, the heroism of a human reaching into the rubble to pull another out — these should not be just crisis-time responses reserved for events of national scale. We often miss moments to say how we feel, to connect with one another, to shed our mask in our daily lives. These are the little tragedies that happen all the time; and like the Boston bombings, they can slowly be healed if we recognize how fallible we are, and through that recognition, lift each other up.
Geng Ngarmboonanant is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .