Reflections on the Boston and London Marathons

Reflections on Boston Marathon Bombings

Almost eight years after my life was changed by a bomb on 7th July 2005; on Monday I was again confronted by scenes of a bombing.

As the scenes of a bomb detonating at the finish line of the Boston marathon started to fill our TV screens, my mobile phone started to fill with messages. ‘are you ok? Have you seen the news’ the first one from my sister said.
I knew what my sister’s text message meant. It was what she didn’t say in her text that told me what it was about. A word she would never put in a text message to me. Somewhere there must have been a terrorist attack.

Unusually the news channel wasn’t on in my house. It usually is.
The psychologist who treated my PTSD once told me I was constantly checking the world was ok. I turned on the news channel, bracing myself for whatever tragic scenes were about to fill the room. I was terrified wondering what I was about to see.

There was no doubt in my mind I was about to see scenes from a terrorist attack.

The scenes were of course dreadful. Back in 2005 social media was in its infancy, there wasn’t such an immediate response to the news as you get today. On Monday my phone, my Facebook and my twitter all filled with messages. I was bombarded by caring messages from well-meaning friends.

What was also different about this attack in particular, were the amounts of cameras rolling, filming the race as two bombs went off only seconds apart. This was, without a doubt the purpose of attacking such a high profile outdoors event on Patriot Day; that the detonation, and immediate aftermath would be broadcast around the world, in real time for all to see.

On July 7th the pictures which filled the TV and newspapers were taken maybe half an hour afterwards; in what as a survivor I can describe as the relative calm of the aftermath. The public did not hear our screams, or see the immediate fear and hopelessness in the faces of survivors on July 7th. I could sense the horror and fear not only in the faces of the people on my TV screens, but also from the messages of my friends. People around the world who have never experienced terrorism first hand were now seeing what it’s really like, and I could tell it was terrifying them.

The messages I received from friends sending me comfort, seemed edgier than the other times there have been attacks in the last eight years; I could sense my friend’s and family’s horror, I almost felt like I had to comfort them.

I had experienced this before, they hadn’t, and I could tell they were all frightened. This of course was the purpose of targeting an event where many news cameras would be present.

Watching the scenes, I felt numb at first. It’s called disassociation. This happened to me on the bus when it all felt surreal; and it happened again, for a few hours on Monday. It’s your brains self-protection mode kicking in, it happens when your brain knows you cannot cope. On the outside I appeared calm, on the inside numb. People mistake it for survivors being extremely strong, and we are strong; but it’s actually our brains way of keeping it out, until we can cope.

My tears didn’t fall until around 10pm, and when my tears came, they overflowed for hours. I cried for the people of Boston, I cried for those who lost their life, I cried for those who were injured and like me would now start walking down a lonely path; their life altered forever by one chance moment of devastation. What for many runners, should have been a day of elation and great achievement, became the worst day of their lives in a moment.

As well as the memories, and the sorrow which filled my heart, I was also filled with resolve for the peace work I now dedicate myself to. I knew that on Monday night I would cry, I would feel weak, but that in the morning I would wake up even more determined in my peace work. Even more determined to contribute to stopping this happening again. People ask me why I don’t feel bitter, why I am now an advocate for peace. The answer was on your TV screens on Monday night.

I cannot bear the thought of anyone else going through that again, I have to do what I can to prevent it.

By now, one of the accused bombers has been shot dead, another lies injured in hospital. We know very little about these men or their motives, only their cultural roots, so far. The media have of course focussed on this, perhaps because it is uncomfortable for Americans to think of these young men as Americans too, even though they have lived in The USA for many years. Just as following July 7th 2005 we focussed on the cultural heritage of the young men responsible. Despite most of them being born in the UK, we did not think of them as simply British, or ‘home grown.’ I made this mistake myself too, in the days that followed London, I remember saying ‘They can’t be British’ yet 7 days later, we found out that they were.

Instead the focus was on the differences, rather than similarities. Of course, I am sure it is this mixed up Cultural identity that contributed largely to events in London almost eight years ago. I have always felt that it was the struggle between two cultural identities that first led to the personal conflicts and reasons behind the London attacks. But that is just my opinion. We all have different opinions. I am now always willing to listen to the opinions of others too.

I can never condone their violent action – far from it; but as a survivor I do feel its my responsibility to try and understand, so I can contribute to prevent it happening again in the future.

I’m sure there will be some speculation over the Boston accused motives in the next weeks. However we won’t see the night and day focus on the reasons behind the attacks as we have done for the five day ‘man hunt’ or even then looped scenes which were played over and over again on Monday night.

Sadly, the reasons and motives will not be interesting enough for our media, who much prefer car chases, gun fights and images of the injured. Reasons and motives are not as good for viewing figures as pictures of the injured or car chases.

But if we never try to understand the motives for violence, how will we ever prevent others doing the same?

If we understand the reasons which lead to violent conflict, we can start to prevent it.

If we never understand the reasons and motives, we can only react, after the event, with violent force ourselves.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

It is not just the responsibility of ‘The Authorities’ to investigate these motives; it is our responsibility – as a society, to try and then understand those reasons and motives; and to create a society of understanding where young men do not feel their ‘best option’ is to kill other people.

Sadly the people of Boston have experienced terrorism before. It was from Boston that a plane left on September 11 and never reached its destination; instead flight 11 from Boston flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. I know Boston will draw on the resilience it found that day. The people who survived, and the families who have lost loved ones will find a strength they never imagined they had in them. But is a pain no-one should ever have to experience and a pain most people cannot imagine.

Sunday will see thousands of people run through the streets of London, and millions more will cheer them as they run. Beautiful London, the same City which I ran through on July 7th 2005 when I was running for my life from the wreckage of a bus.

I am sure some of the runners will feel anxious. I am sure many have considered not running, and families of spectators will be reconsidering their plans. I am also just as certain it will be the safest London marathon yet – security will be at an all-time high.

I hope every single runner still attends, and I hope they run for the lives of the people lost to terrorism all round the world, and I hope they can run with peace in their hearts.

I hope they will run so that we can show terrorists they will never defeat us.


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