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The Boston marathon bombing - absorbing the horror in my home city from 3,000 miles away

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Marathon runner in shock after bombing of public international event shakes Boston
Marathon runner in shock after bombing of public international event shakes Boston

It was a moment that Bostonians everywhere will never forget.

News that two explosions rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street hit me like a ton of bricks when I first spotted it on my Twitter feed just after 8:00 PM (Irish time) last evening.  The Boston Marathon is widely regarded as the most prestigious marathon in the world and takes place on a uniquely New England holiday, Patriots’ Day.  The Boston Red Sox also play a special late morning home game at Fenway Park every Patriots’ Day.  What was always a festive day in my home city will forever be different.

When I spotted the early reports on Twitter, I trembled and shouted out the news to my wife and older son, who now have a special affinity with the city through me.  My thoughts immediately turned to my brother and sister-in-law, and to many other relatives and friends in the city whose safety was suddenly in peril.  The early moments were most harrowing.  Even unconfirmed and dubious rumors can raise alarm bells after panic has set in.  Fortunately, I received the all clear from most family members and friends very quickly.

In those early moments, I was most concerned about the wife of one of my closest friends, who has run the Boston Marathon a number of times and was running again yesterday.  Again fortunately, and probably because she is such an accomplished runner, she had finished the race and my friend and their two young children had departed the finish line area a short time before the two explosions went off.

Speaking with my brother and listening to Boston radio in the hours after the explosions was especially frightening.  Numerous radio callers provided reports of literally dozens of blacked out Chevrolet Suburbans driving into the city and of state and city police cars everywhere.  Confusion and shock prevailed.  Having heard some alarming rumors, my brother was understandably wary of getting on the T (Boston’s public transit system) and waited until my sister-in-law could collect him before heading home from his office just over the Charles River in Cambridge.  Reports of other devices being defused and of a separate, possibly related incident at the JFK Library in Dorchester then emerged.

While I monitored Boston media reports of the explosions in their immediate aftermath, I subsequently switched to Irish media coverage.  I’m glad I did.  For the Irish coverage, and the solidarity with my city that was so pervasive in it, provided a sense of comfort in an otherwise distressing time.  Most all media reports reflected the high regard that Irish people have for Boston.  Both in traditional and social media, journalists and other commentators did not hide their myriad Boston connections.  They noted the special kinship between the Irish people and the most Irish city in the US.  They expressed relief on hearing that family and friends were safe.

Perhaps most poignantly, on Morning Ireland, the flagship radio programme on RTÉ (Ireland’s national broadcaster), host Cathal Mac Coille today recalled “standing on a T platform, looking across the tracks and seeing people who looked like they could be related to you or who reminded you of someone from back home in Ireland.”  This, and other heartfelt sentiments I’ve heard since the explosions, has crystallized for me just how real the connection is between my two homes and just how lucky I am to be a part of both communities on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, back in Boston, details have emerged about the human toll of the explosions.  At least two people are dead.  More than 130 are injured.  Some have lost limbs.  One of the dead is an 8 year old boy from Dorchester who had just hugged his father after he completed the marathon.  His mother and sister were both seriously injured.  Two brothers each lost a leg.  There are countless other injuries.  They are beyond comprehension.  All we can do right now is hope and pray for everyone who has been affected by this unspeakable tragedy.

At the same time, federal and state authorities are trying to ascertain who is responsible for the explosions.  Some people are looking either to the Middle East or to potential domestic sources of terror and assigning blame.  Immigrants are already being scapegoated in certain quarters.  I certainly understand the rage, but it’s too early to be assigning blame at this stage, whether reasonably or unreasonably, for me.  I’m still numb.

I greatly appreciated President Obama’s words last night.  In an address to the nation, he stated that “Boston is a tough and resilient town.  So are its people.  I’m supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together, take care of each other, and move forward as one proud city.  And as they do, the American people will be with them every single step of the way.”

I know in my head and in my heart that the president will be proven right.  Right now, however, as a Bostonian writing from 3,000 miles away, it doesn’t feel like anything will ever be the same in the city I love so much.  I wish I was there.      

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