I was at mile 17 of the Boston Marathon when a runner looked up from her cell phone and said, in disbelief, a bomb went off at the finish line.
I was running with a small group of people through the Newton hills at the time, the last big push before you get to Boston College and then downhill through Brookline, past Fenway Park, and into the Back Bay and the finish line.
Fifteen minutes later, the police were hanging crime scene tape across the course. The race was over.
We were put on a schoolbus, then in a police cruiser, and then loaded onto another school bus, which took us to a church on the Boston College campus.
The scene was what you see on the news in disaster situations: people holding onto each other in disbelief; people on cots; people milling around, talking and texting on their phones.
The news dribbled out in bits and pieces: two bombs, and then a third bomb which the police safely detonated. Two dead. More than a hundred injured. Legs amputated. Children hurt.
The city of Boston was on lockdown, eerily silent.
After about two hours of waiting, the police were letting people walk out.
I walked about a mile, still in my race gear, through a deserted city.
Finally I got to a point where cars were permitted. I did something I haven’t done in thirty years: I hitched a ride. The couple who picked me up were marathoners themselves and said they wanted the karma from helping out a fellow runner.
I was able to get back to my friend’s apartment in Brookline and found tons of email, phone calls, and texts.
In one sense, I was no nearer the scene of the accident than if I’d stayed home in California. The sense of grief was attenuated. The sense of loss and confusion was much stronger; races don’t stop because of bombs, do they?
But the thing that I think about is this: early this morning, I lined up for about forty minutes with the other 27,000 runners, in Boston Common. Part of the line passed by a Revolutionary War-era cemetery, which gave me pause and made me remember, yet again, that life is fleeting.
A siren is echoing even as I write this.
What’s the lesson? I thought about what George W. Bush said after 9/11: hug your kids. Live your life.
My sons asked me, would I run another marathon? Would I run the Boston again?
Yes, absolutely. Because if you alter your life out of fear, then the bad guys win. And that’s the worst outcome of all.