What I Learned from Being in the Heart of a Terrorist Attack
Yesterday, three people were killed and more than 150 injured when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Among the dead was an 8-year-old boy. Because the bombs were placed close to the ground, many of the injured lost lower limbs. President Obama called the event "an act of terror," and some witnesses have reported that they believe The Boston Marathon is ruined forever. Others have met the tragedy with the desire to help—apparently a Google doc of volunteers has been circulating around Boston. Some are still processing.
In the summer of 2005, I was in college (which makes me about 937 in Sparkler years, I know), doing an internship at the Associated Press in London. Back then—before goofing around on blogs was established as a viable career option—I had wanted to be a news writer, and this was my dream internship. I had covered pretty cool stuff, like the Queen's birthday celebration, and Hogwarts pandemonium as Britain prepared for the release of the novel Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
On July 7, 2005, I woke up to the sound of banging on my bedroom door. (I lived in a house with a bunch of other Americans interning at various companies in London.) Our resident advisor told me that the London Underground had been bombed, and that our house was on lock-down—we were not allowed to leave. I quickly shut my door, wiped last night's mascara off my face, and called my office at the Associated Press. What was going on? Did they have details? Outside my bedroom door, several of my fellow housemates were already sobbing.
My boss at the AP told me bombs had gone off all over the city. One of the worst hit stations was King's Cross, which was far from the office, but close to me. Despite the lock-down orders, I volunteered to go. Not because I'm super brave or something—because it gave me purpose in a time of chaos. Because being on the scene seemed less frustrating than being around a house of wailing Americans. My friend Tyler, a hulking Texas football player, helped sneak me out of the house. And with my cell phone, my tape recorder, and a little notepad and pen, I ran.
I arrived at King's Cross less than an hour after the bombs exploded. EMTs were removing bloodied and mangled bodies from the underground trains. I interviewed soot-covered survivors wrapped in gray blankets before medical attendants ushered them into ambulances. Later, I ran to a part of town where a bomb blew up a bus. Later, I ran to a press conference. Into the night I worked alongside reporters, trying to make sense of the tragedy and find the right quotes to paint a picture for the world of what we had seen that day. And the next day—in true "Hey-intern!-Go-do-the-thing-we-don't-wanna-do-wouldja?" fashion—I was asked to ride the London Underground and write about it. It was even more empty than I'd imagined.
Londoners were still utterly spooked.
But after about a day and half, something changed. The British people I interviewed on the street weren't in shock anymore. And they certainly weren't crying, like the Americans in my house. They weren't afraid to ride the Underground, or gather in parks, or go to work. They didn't seem to feel guilty talking about sports or the weather. In fact, they seemed confused about why I wanted to keep talking about terrorist attacks that killed 52 and injured more than 700.
"We're Brits," one man explained to me, "We move on."
At first I couldn't understand how a nation could move on from a tragedy so quickly. It seemed unnatural, callous, and disrespectful to the dead. But the longer I covered the story, the more I realized that the Londoners had it right: The best way to fight terrorism is to keep living the life you want to live.
When I heard about the bombs in Boston yesterday, it made me immediately think of my time in London. As I listened to people on public radio worry that they would never be able to participate in large group activities again, I remembered the dozens of British people I interviewed, all of whom refused to change their lives because of the attacks. It made me remember a time, back in college, when I wondered, "Would I rather die doing what I want, or live in fear?"
Now, like then, I'm with the Brits. And if there's any group of people who understands the necessity of staying true to yourself, it's Sparklers.
What are/were your reactions to the Boston bombings?