Lessons from the Marathon bombings

By Steven Gillard

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

            On April 15, 2013, two terrorists carried out an attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Although it was a year ago, images of that day – the unexpected explosions, the senseless carnage, the distressing manhunt that followed – remain etched into our minds. 

            While a painful day for us all, it was not without its lessons, lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

1. I’m proud to be an American.

            Living in the United States, it is far too easy to focus only on our problems. The media constantly shoves the negatives in our faces: the corruptness of Washington, questionable foreign policy, economic and social inequality – the list goes on. What the media doesn’t depict is all that we do have.

I’m proud that we have the freedom to run marathons in the streets of Boston. I’m proud that acts of domestic terrorism are not common like they are in many other countries and that we have the power to bring to justice those who seek to harm us. More than anything, I’m proud that we can come together and display our solidarity to the world.

Over the summer, I watched Luke Bryan and Rascal Flatts perform in their Boston Strong shirts at the Xfinity Center while chants of “Sweet Caroline” echoed across the ballparks of America. The words “United We Stand” ring truer than ever, testifying to the overarching unity that not only defines this country but also strengthens it. Democrat or Republican, CEO or movie theater usher, Red Sox or Yankee fan – we are all Americans first. While the bombers sought to attack our way of life, they only strengthened my conviction that there is no other country I’d rather live than the United States.

                2. People are overwhelmingly good

            The police, fire department and military response to the 2013 attack was a remarkable display of courage and selflessness. Average men and women rushed to the aid of the injured with no regard for their own safety. One Fund Boston raised $69.8 million in donations and men and women left running shoes, Red Sox hats and American flags at a makeshift memorial in Copley Square.

The Boston Marathon bombers wanted to incite terror, but their efforts were in vain; all their actions did was prove that the number of good people in this world vastly outnumbers the bad..There may be people who want to harm us, but we have police officers willing to risk their lives to bring them to justice. Firefighters and paramedics gladly place themselves in harm’s way to save the lives of the injured. Millions of military service members dutifully go to war to defend our way of life and countless other ordinary men and women, when the time comes, will step up and aid the wounded, whether they clear debris off of the helpless or carry them to an ambulance.

America is full of heroes and because of that I am not afraid of those who wish us harm.

            3. Love is more powerful than hate

                In the wake of the attacks it was easy to become enraged; it was the expected reaction to an evil that we couldn’t understand. While I eagerly liked Facebook statuses asking for the slow and torturous death of the bombers, I would scoff at those who took a different approach, advocating love and compassion over hatred and fury. MLK, Gandhi, Bob Marley – people would quote their proclamations of love and I would shake my head in disgust.

Looking back, though, it’s true. Anger gets us nowhere. Anger changes nothing. Although it was acceptable and expected during the time, holding on to anger only makes the damage of the bombs far more effective, delivering moral blows instead of only physical ones.

If we truly want to emerge triumphant, we must hold on to what separates us from them: our emphasis on love for each other rather than hate. While terrorists train to set off bombs and harm as many people as possible, Americans train to run 26.2 miles and are cheered for and encouraged by their family and friends.

It is important to want justice, but even more important to live our lives as we did before, lives dedicated to acquiring happiness. To live with anger over the attacks is to live with the same mindset as the perpetrators and we are better than that.

            4. Never take anything for granted

            Thousands of men and women went to Boston last year on April 15. Some were running and others were cheering them on, but one thing was for certain: everyone was happy to be there.  It was one of those days with a positive trajectory, like a day spent at the beach or Christmas day, a day of happiness and stress-free living, a day in which nothing can go wrong. 

            When the day was over, at least 260 people were injured, 16 lost limbs and three lost their lives. 

            By far the most important truth emerging from the Boston Marathon bombings was one depicted constantly in books, music and film, a truth considered incredibly cliché, but one we refuse to acknowledge nonetheless: nothing in life is certain. Even the most perfect days can end in tragedy and we are powerless to stop it. You never know when you will see somebody for the last time. You never know what tomorrow will bring. 

            The attacks taught us, if nothing else, to live every day like it is our last. In honor of the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, I ask that everybody do just that. Tell your parents you love them. Let a friend know how much you appreciate him or her. Apologize to those you have hurt and forgive those who have hurt you. 

            Life is far too transient to leave meaningful words unsaid.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].