Natalie Small: After the Boston Marathon


Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.

Patriot's Day in Boston is commemorative of our seeking independence from England in the 18th century and recalling our country's Founding Fathers who proclaimed the fundamental truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We liked the day when we were kids, because in Massachusetts it was a holiday with no school. We often forgot what the reason for that was because the big news was the annual running of the 26.2 mile Boston Marathon that started in 1897.

It was a day of colorful flags, hot dog vendors and fun. Runners, who had trained for months and years, came from around the world to participate in what has become one of the most prestigious of races. Watching the thousands of athletic bodies lined up, the miracle always seemed to be that they didn't crush each other, but over several hours the group thinned and we'd cheer all those who made it up Heartbreak Hill and to the finish line in downtown Boston, as if they were Olympic champions.

This Patriot's Day afternoon, while I was opening my computer to check email, the AOL home page was showing pictures of an explosion in Boston that had occurred at 2:50 p.m. I dashed to the evening news that my husband found on TV. We sat stunned, hearing how two bombs had exploded a few hundred yards from the marathon's finish line near the historic Boston Public Library.

Meanwhile the CNN ribbon was telling us of 23,000 runners, three deaths, one an 8-year-old child and additional children in the more than 150 injured. Pictures-of blood splashed streets, injured fallen people — some legless — and ambulances with stretchers being filled had us in shock. I quickly reached for the phone to check on our Boston family.

Our daughter, Carla, had been at the marathon at the race's midpoint, Wellesley, with her enterprising Matthew who had raised $50 for his middle school project by handing out free water to runners and getting money from a thirsty crowd. However, our dear 15-year-old grandchild Michaela, on a first foray into Boston without adult supervision, had been with three friends within 50 yards of the detonation spot.

They had decided to appease their teenage stomachs and gone for food. Halfway up a side street they heard and felt the frightening explosion of two bombs. They eventually had worked their way, managing not to get separated, through the chaos, screams and disruption and reached home by late afternoon; shaken, but safe. Shocked that this could happen in our Boston, my husband and I watched the tragedy on mesmerizing reruns for hours into the night.

As an 80-year-old grandmother, I grew up in an age when children were confident that we would have a long life. Death happened to an old relative or a beloved pet. We assumed we would always have the liberty just to walk through any door with our friends and we thought the pursuit of happiness was getting an “A” on a math test.

Today I am furious, sad and my heart cries out! I am furious that some individual or group has, again, caused disruption of our way of life that our early patriots paid a dear price to achieve and for which so many millions of lives have been sacrificed. I am sad for the segment of the 23,000 athletes who worked arduously to fulfill the dream of running the Boston Marathon and whose plans may have been aborted.

However, my heart cries out for children all over the world, from Afghanistan to Syria and beyond, and now including my grandchild. Their brains have been imprinted with the memory of bombings and maimed bodies and their souls have been seared by the childhood-killing realization of the fragility of life.

That this change to our sense of liberty as Americans should happen again, as it did on 9/11, on a brisk, sunny, perfect New England day, is one of the real tragedies of this heinous event.

Natalie S. Small is a retired pediatric mental health counselor who lives in Gainesville.

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