On April 15, 2013, Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev shook the Greater Boston area by setting off bombs at the Boston marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260. Days after the marathon, the city put everyone on lockdown for a large scale manhunt that ended in the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev inside of a boat on Franklin Street in Watertown, and the death of his brother Tamerlan. This week, Tsarnaev, known pervasively as the Boston bomber, was found guilty by a federal jury on all 30 counts brought against him.
When I heard this week's news, I found myself vividly remembering the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. On that Monday, I was three thousand miles away, in France, madly texting and calling loved ones in Boston while following the police scanner on Reddit. I wanted so badly to be in the city that I had lived in for four years as a student at Boston College. But I wasn't.
One of my closest friends was running in the race that day. A handful of others were living in the Brighton Center and Allston areas after graduation. As their neighborhoods went into lockdown, I felt horribly ineffective and deeply anxious for my friends' safety. Days later, the manhunt moved one street away from where I had once watched my professor’s cat. I felt helpless.
Dwelling for too long on the trial will only halt the healing process. And as long as we listen — as long as we move past the trial as a unified group — we will make it up and over Heartbreak Hill.
I had, of course, witnessed the drama of the Boston Marathon before. I saw how competing in a race presents the daunting possibility of failure in a solitary sport. The majority of runners quietly trained on their own for countless months to run one race, and that perseverance was evident. One of the most beautiful parts of the marathon was watching these runners realize that, regardless of their solitude, an entire community was rooting for them.
Around mile 21 on Marathon Monday, as the city calls it, Boston College students break out their grills, turn up their speakers, and cheer runners along as they crest the infamous Heartbreak Hill. This hill is so long and grueling that many runners walk. They climb a 3.3 percent elevation change for half of a mile after 19 miles of relentless running. That is no joke. It makes or breaks a race.
Runners pass by in groups, pairs, and alone. Some dress up. Some run barefoot. Some are senior citizens. Boston College students run to raise funds for the school's special needs education program or other causes, and when they pass, their classmates step up their game. There is no question about it: the marathon is a feat, and no matter how singular the sport, the community binds together on race day. They buoy runners up through sound, attempting to drown out any doubt. You can do it, they say, just make it to the finish.
But what happens when the finish line disappears? What happens in the face of loss, terror, and days of living without knowing if the person who instigated the most awful terror attack in Boston’s history is still out there, waiting? I wasn't there, but my friend Catherine was.
"I was about two miles from the finish line when the bombs went off on Marathon Monday," Boston College alumna Catherine LeClair recently told to me.
"The race continued until I reached Kenmore Square, where the previously clear roadways had devolved into a mass of confused runners and spectators. Amidst that crowd I remember this: a group of runners, refusing to believe they couldn't finish the race, snaked their way toward Copley Square. Likely delirious after running 25.5 miles, the words 'there is no finish line' probably felt as incomprehensible to them as it did to me. However, they had the spirit of a marathoner: someone who does something nearly impossible just to prove that they can."
As the Tsarnaev trial comes to a close and proceeds to the penalty phase, I hope that we can find closure. I hope that we can create unity around the voices of the victims and move them towards the finish line. In a metaphor borrowed from Uzo Aduba, this trial ripped the Band Aid off of a deep wound, and the most important part will be how we move forward, let the wound air out, and finish the race.
Dwelling for too long on the trial will only halt the healing process. And as long as we listen — as long as we move past the trial as a unified group — we will make it up and over Heartbreak Hill. "Boston doesn't need vindication from Dzhokhar Tsarnev's trial," Catherine adds. "Spite is too weak to fuel 26.2 miles of running."
Boston Strong came together to mourn, remember the victims of a terrible tragedy, and pave the road to recovery with their voices. Let us keep the Boston bomber in our past and remember them instead.
To quote Ellie Wiesel: "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death."
Let us not mark this verdict with hate and ugliness. Let us embrace each other instead.