From an apartment on Elizabeth Street, just south of Houston, I tried to contact my friend Eileen after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I remember leaving a message on her cell phone hoping she was okay and to get back to me when she got the chance. Then I called an ex-boyfriend who might have been on the 4/5 coming in from Brooklyn to go to work. I never got through on that call. Then I went up to the roof with a dozen or so people to watch the Twin Towers burn and to hope for the best.
From my dining room in New Jersey, four hours from Boston, I texted my sisters when I saw the tweets about bombs going off at the finish line. “Are you guys okay?” My youngest sister’s office is just off the finish line on Boylston Street, and I thought she might have gone down to watch the race. She hadn’t. She was working from home. They found out about the bombs from me. Then I watched the horror unfold on my laptop screen through tweets and Boston Globe updates, and I hoped for the best.
Based on these and other – less devastating – situations over the years, I know how I react in times of indirect crisis. I reach out to my own, and then I try to make sense of the situation. Seeing how others, those who are in the midst of hell-on-earth, have responded, I can’t promise I would do the same. Would I run towards the smoke and pull aside barricades to try to save a life? I’d like to think I would, but I don’t know. And I don’t blame or judge those who run or hide or pray or curl up in a self-protective cocoon. Because really, luckily, I’ve never found out what I would do.
And that’s what makes heroes what they are. They have been tested, and they chose to jump in – knowing they could help. We can’t all be heroes, and I don’t think everyone should be a hero. If we all ran towards every crisis, it would become a mess of wannabe-do-gooders getting in each others’ way. Some of us need to take on self-preservation, caring for our circles. Some of us need to be on-lookers, witnesses. Some of us need to be the ones who run for help when screamed at to do so.
I’ve heard several accounts of people sheepishly admitting relief at having left the marathon early or going for a drink or not doing enough after the bombs went off. Survivor’s guilt is a nasty business. Similar to regret, it strips away the relief and joy of the present to expose supposed inadequacies of the past. Shake it off. Shake it off and know that each one of us, every day, has the capacity to jump in at any moment. You are here. So jump!
The City of Boston and the State of Massachusetts have set up a place to accept donations that will be used to help those most affected by the events on Patriots’ Day. It’s called The One Fund, and it is the best place to donate, if you choose to do so. Scary Mommy is also running a matching donation up to $1000. So feel free to go there to donate through Scary Mommy Nation.