Boston Marathon bombing was a meaningful “where were you” moment

As I examine the recollections of my short 25 years in existence, there are a few “where were you” moments that I can clearly remember. For the most part, they are sports moments. Some of them are wonderful and others still pain me to think about.

But as vividly as I remember the plays at home plate or the shots from the blue line, they didn’t change my life. In the grand scope of existence, they were meaningless beyond a few cherished memories and fodder between some friends and a round of beers.

 Yesterday I added a new “where were you” moment, one happening within sports but outside of the usual context. It was the bombing of the Boston Marathon. Those grisly events on Boylston St. mattered and I found myself considering the situation more than I thought I would.

I found out about the bombing while walking home from the grocery store. I was listening to the radio. It was Pittsburgh sports talk, but it briefly cut out to report the events at the Boston Marathon. After 15 seconds, it was back to regular programming.

I hurried back to my apartment and turned on the television. The images of the race immediately made me think of November 2011.

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My first notable “where were you” memory occurred 20 years ago. I remember sobbing in my parent’s living room after the Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 NLCS. Although I was only 5, I’ll never forget Sid Bream sliding into home plate, narrowly avoiding the tag of Spanky Lavalliere, thus ending my night and the ability of the Pirates organization to ever win again.

Most recently, I recall sitting at the end of a bar in New York City, nervously slugging a Honey Brown lager when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals. Marc-Andre Fleury’s leap across the goal mouth to snuff out Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot in the game’s waning seconds will forever exist in my head, readily available for access on a daily basis should I need to smile.

 But as depressing and joyful as those respective nights were, they weren’t real life. Because after all, sports are merely a diversion from the things that really matter, regardless of how much happiness or grief they cause us to feel.

 In actuality, it is the other “where were you” moments, the real-life instances that truly matter. These are the events that can alter people’s lives. They are life and death. They mold the world and drive change, whether it is social, economic, environmental, or what have you. For older generations, the Kennedy assassination conjures vivid descriptions easily remembered at a moment’s notice, as does the moon landing or the fall or the Berlin Wall. For me and my generation, Sept. 11, 2001 does the same.

 My memory of the attacks is as clear as the skies were that day. I was sitting in Mr. Lewis’ classroom in eighth grade with a room full of my peers and a few teachers. We watched the television mounted on the wall as the second plane horrifically glided into the second tower. It felt like a movie. I remember exiting the building later that day and craning my head upwards to observe an immaculate sky, devoid of clouds and any air planes. Even in cow country Pennsylvania, it was unusual and unnerving to witness that stillness above.

 Still, New York City felt like a world away and though I’ll never forget that day, I didn’t feel like I was part of it, even if I was standing under the same empty sky as those people in New York. I didn’t know anyone who died in the towers or on the planes, so it didn’t drive much emotion from me.

That always bothered me to an extent, because I should have felt patriotic, or sad or something. But I didn’t feel much. In retrospect, I may have been too young and naive to feel the emotion that I probably should have, so when the planes fell out of the sky and the buildings crashed down, it didn’t shake the ground beneath my feet.

 But yesterday felt different.

 The Boston Marathon bombing served up a very startling real-life “where were you moment” that I can’t help but feel linked to. It happened in a city no different than the one I live now and there was no reason those bombs couldn’t have burst in the Big Apple.

 I found myself tearing up at the sight of the horror, and that surprised me. Although I see murders and other tragedies on the news nearly every day, I feel disconnected to most of it, even if those events happen close to me. I’m used to seeing reports of violence and devastation but it never conjures any real emotions. I don’t know whether that’s a product of my desensitization from seeing news reports daily or it’s just a general lack of interest in a violent and harsh world I can’t relate to. I’ve never been victim to tragedy. I’ve never bared witness to terror.

 But after I saw the pictures and the footage of bloody sidewalks and terrified crowds and crying children and shattered windows and misery and anger and pain, I couldn’t help but react differently this time. It made me feel a little more human. This time I had a connection to what I was watching, albeit one conjured in my head.

I was touched by the Boston bombing because of the thought that it could have happened to me.

 In November 2011, I had gathered with a group of friends and thousands of strangers near the finish line on a chilly November afternoon. It was the day of the New York City Marathon. My roommate was in the race and I was packed in five or six people deep to see him finish. The sun was shining, just as it was in Boston yesterday. It had a celebratory atmosphere and parties were just as prevalent as competitors. It is a happy memory.

 My friend jogged by me as did many others, completing what was one of the most difficult but rewarding tasks of their lives. It was inspiring. A few runners began to stagger with the finish line in site. They were empty and though their hearts were willing, their muscles were weak. Some stopped. A few more resilient runners approached them, urging them to finish. “It’s not far now,” they would tell the depleted competitors. “You can do it.” They were proud people and I was proud of them.

 The crowd joined in with frenzy. Never had I ever rooted so hard for nameless strangers. Their heavy feet began to step again, driven by the thousands chanting their number. It was so redeeming to see folks in New York City forget themselves. In a loud and crowded city, it’s not uncommon for rudeness and indifference to act as rule, not exception, so to glimpse the opposite for a few hours restored a little bit of my faith in humanity.

 ****

 As I watched the replay of the bombs detonating over and over, there was one overriding thought in my head: What if an explosion happened at the New York City Marathon? What would have gone through the heads of my family if they found out a bomb went off near Central Park on marathon day and I was undoubtedly attending? It’s a sickening hypothetical made real and relatable by yesterday’s tragedy.

 Because of that hypothetical, the Boston Marathon bombing was the most visceral “where were you” moment I’ve ever had. Suddenly, the violent and alien world of tragedy didn’t seem light years away. I could relate.

 We’ll continue to hear news as the investigation in Boston rolls on and we’ll be reminded for a while about everything that took place. Future marathons will be altered and security will tighten at stadiums and races around the world. In time, the memory will fizzle and drift to the back of our minds. It’ll boil down to a “where were you” moment for most of us, just like 9/11 or Kennedy’s death. I can tell my kids about it someday and they probably won’t think much of it. It won’t be forgotten, but it’ll be just another tragic memory. It won’t change many of us.

 But I hope the memory of yesterday serves more of a purpose than just an afterthought. I hope it changes me, just a little. I want to remember my hypothetical. I want to remember that fear juxtaposed with my memory of the New York City Marathon. I want to remember how I thought it could have happened to me.

 When life is at its worst and I’m ready to give up, I want to remember it could be worse. I could have lost someone I loved and someone could have lost me. The only difference was that some sick person or people decided to plant explosives in Boston in 2013 instead of New York in 2011.

 Hopefully, it will remind me that I’m pretty damn lucky to have what and who I have. I hope it reminds me that I GET to watch the Pirates lose and the Penguins win. I hope it reminds me that I’m fortunate enough to reminisce about Spanky and Marc-Andre and that I GET to pretend that those things matter.

Where was I the day of the Boston Marathon bombing?

Hopefully, I remember that I was in New York City, and I felt the explosions from 200 miles away.

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