Around this time of year, I always think a little more about the concept of near-misses. Of fate intervening. Of pure and simple luck.
On what will be four years ago Saturday, my mom laced up her sneakers to run the 2013 Boston Marathon. My dad and brother headed to the finish line, positioning themselves under a row of flags, to watch her finish. I had a job interview in D.C., so I wasn't able to attend, but I tracked her on my phone, with texts from my brother, and by watching TV coverage of the Marathon from my dorm room.
I'm pretty sure you know the rest.
When we talk about that day in my family - and by family, I mean my immediate core, the four of us together - we focus on how lucky we are. My dad and brother were feet from the bombs. They came home that night with residue and tears on their jackets, unsettling images in their heads. As I saw the area under the flags explode on television, over and over, from miles away, my first reaction was to throw up. I don't think I cried for an hour, until I heard my brother's voice on the phone, after I'd wondered for an hour if they were okay. And then I don't remember how long it took me to stop crying. It felt like years.
I think if you look hard enough, you can probably find pictures of them from the blast. I've never wanted to look hard enough.
I struggle with how to talk to others about the bombing. Though I was the only member of my family that wasn't there, it wholly changed my life. For months after, I woke up frantic from a nightmare where I was in a crowd with my family, there was an explosion, and I was unable to find them. At concerts, in shopping malls, in wall-to-wall people on the Metro, I suffered the beginnings of panic attacks, blindly shoving my way through crowds until I felt like I could breathe again.
I saw my dad and brother flinch as cars backfired. I read the account my brother gave USA Today, blinking away tears.
It changed all of our lives - all four of us. I feel fiercely protective of our narrative, one that saw all four family members struggle with the aftermath before rising above it to triumph. My mother ran the 2014 Marathon, and my father returned to the finish line to support her. My brother threw himself into public service, joining ROTC and now receiving a Marathon-related scholarship for a police academy. I became a runner, determined to turn my fury and fears and grief into a positive force.
It's resiliency echoed by the city. When I walk around Boston as Marathon time draws near, my heart swells. Instead of being cowed or defeated, the celebration has become bigger, more meaningful, filled with love.
But it's a day that will always be difficult for me - more so now as my inability to run the race has now halted me twice. I'm angry at my own body. I'm angry at the people that hurt my family. I'm angry at others who casually discuss the Marathon bombings without any true understanding of what that day, and its ripple effects, felt like for the four of us.
We were lucky. I remind myself of that over and over. But that doesn't mean it hasn't been challenging. That doesn't mean that I don't struggle with each anniversary of April 15, spending the entire day fighting off the demons of what might have been. And that doesn't mean that it's easier for me to accept my own failures as it relates to the Marathon. If anything, it makes it harder. My family's fought so hard to cross their own finish lines, to reclaim their own lives after catastrophe. And I've been unable to honor them by crossing one myself.
Ultimately, though, April 15 is now about love. I see it in One Boston Day, the wonderful initiative put forth by the city that's turned the anniversary into a day about service and giving back to the community. I see it in my brother preparing for a life of service. I see it in the elation on every face that crosses the finish line a few days later.
My mom once told me that no one outside of the four of us will ever truly understand what that day, and its aftermath, felt like for our family. And that's true. But what others will understand is how we banded together to move forward, and reclaim the narrative. It's what the entire city did. And it's what I remind myself of each time I find myself questioning what could have been.
Congratulations to everyone running this year. I hope to join you at some point in the future. And I urge you to take a moment to consider what it truly means to continue to be #BostonStrong.