Light is changing to shadow and casting its shroud over all we have known ~Pink Floyd
The events of last week have made the world a very different place.
I live in Boston. On Monday, I was in my office working with a single-minded intensity. The door was closed, the radio off. All was silent except for the sound of mad typing. I jumped a bit when I got a text message. I pulled the phone closer and dismissed the message. It was from a number I didn’t recognize and I was pretty sure that it was a wrong number. It read “I heard about the bombs. Are you ok?”
I was mildly confused at how far afield the errant message seemed to have gone. Bombings happen in other places and this text was probably meant for someone overseas. After a moment, I sent a quick note back to the sender letting them know they had reached the wrong number so they would not be alarmed at the lack of response.
The reply came quickly and it turned out I did know the sender, just not the number from which they texted. The rest of the afternoon was spent in a flurry of activity texting those whom I knew were in town, checking others’ social media pages for updates on where and how they were doing, and fielding calls and texts from people checking on me.
It was a bit like a long-lost reunion, hearing from people in many cases that I hadn’t connected with directly in years. If they were texting, sometimes they would identify themselves, other times not. I would lean out the door and call over to Greg if he knew Chris or Brian or Paul from XYZ area code as I sent reassuring notes back letting them know we were ok and how grateful I was for their checking in on me.
That evening was filled with fragments of perspectives from conversations with my loved ones. A dear friend who serves as a police officer in the Washington DC area where I grew up reflected that more than 200 people were injured or had died as bomb victims that day in Iraq. Greg quietly spoke about how quickly you become numb to inure yourself to happenings like this as the day stirred his memories from growing up in South Africa when bombings were a frequent occurrence.
The Winds of Change
A tense and unsettled feeling draped over Boston on Wednesday. As I made my way through the Financial District on a beautiful, sunny, spring day, I noted very visible groups of police officers on every block. The instantly identifiable yellow-green vests made the groups of police – never a single officer – stand out as accessible and within easy reach. My walk was accompanied by the constant roar of helicopters stationed and unmoving over the city.
I had a meeting scheduled in the afternoon and together we opted to have our discussion outside on the plaza in front of the Federal Reserve Building rather than the close confines of the café we had chosen. I hesitantly acknowledged both of our preferences to be away from a crowd as we watched cavalcades of cops and platoons of FBI vehicles make their ways through the city; tracking movements by the sirens once they were out of sight.
After the meeting, I headed over to South Station; a central public transportation hub. As I settled down on a bench to check email, a well-produced educational video that was running on monitors throughout South Station crept into my awareness. Gone from the omnipresent screens were the quirky ads and entertaining commercials. As the film drew me in, I learned what to do in case of train emergencies; from fires, to wrecks, to subway collapses… and explosions. The video loop had two parts – how to survive a train disaster and an inside look at the training and performance of Amtrak’s bomb-sniffing dogs.
I began to have second thoughts about the wisdom of using public transportation and spending time in one of the main transit hubs during rush hour. I chided myself for being uneasy as I knew that the city was keyed-up and hyper-vigilant at the time and chances were slim that there would be another attack. But I succumbed and left South Station, making other arrangements to travel home after rush hour.
Grieving the Loss
Boston is a diverse city. Students, immigrants, transplants and expatriates from all over the world have made Beantown their home. It is a vibrant and lively place. As Friday’s lockdown created desolate and abandoned streets the traffic came off the roads and became virtual. Messages flashed on my screen from people who cried out against the loss of safety and security.
Poignant photos arrived with increasing frequency from war-torn areas around the globe where every day bombs tear holes in hearts. One person stated firmly that he would not give up the ideal of security in Boston. He had worked so hard to get here. People declared solidarity with Boston residents. From arch rivals New York Yankees to citizens in Kabul, Pakistan, the Ukraine, and more, all over people were sending photos of support.
The underlying message was clear. Welcome to the real world. You’re now one of us.
As the man hunt intensified, time stood still. We hunkered down. We held our breath. And at that still point in the silence between heartbeats and breaths, you could hear the cracking. The sound of closely held illusions shattering was camouflaged by the crescendo of voices raised in the national anthem, covered by the relieved waves of cheers.
Tomorrow will be different. There is no more business as usual. The world has shifted. It will be a while before the rubble settles at the end of the day.
A Brave New World
Yet as the dust clears, there is something more. More than the losses uncounted, more than the unfathomable reasons, more than the ruin of innocence. Beyond the end of an era, there is a brave new world. There is a dawn. A new world yet to be defined. One to forge anew. I will be a part of that forging. I will help those who fundraise for causes that bring beauty into the world, those that celebrate the advancements we make. I will raise the flag and support the causes that matter. The causes that make a difference. There’s no turning back. There’s no going home.