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Dublin: 12 °C Monday 22 December, 2014

Column: One year on, we remember the lives lost and forever altered by the Boston bombings

It is unfortunate that, sometimes, it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to vitiate differences and to remind us of our common humanity, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly

TWELVE EXTRAORDINARILY FAST months have passed since a day on which Bostonians at home and around the world will forever remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. On this date last year – April 15, 2013 – our city and its people were shaken to their core by two bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The marathon always takes place on the uniquely Massachusetts Patriots’ Day holiday and coincides with an unusual, late morning Boston Red Sox baseball game in the city’s fabled Fenway Park. It will again this Patriots’ Day, which falls on Monday, the 21st.

Today, I’m lucky enough to be back in Boston on a family trip with my Irish wife and sons. We are cherishing what is a typically lovely time to be here as the days get longer and milder spring temperatures thaw a city frozen by an equally typically harsh winter.

But together with the people of Boston and of the broader New England region, we are remembering the lives that were lost and forever altered one year ago by the actions of two lone madmen, the Tsarnaev brothers. They had immigrated to the US and been accepted by the people they met in a far more open society than the ones they had known. Perhaps above all else, that’s what makes what they did so inexplicable.

Disbelief and panic

The overall numbers of people who were killed, maimed and wounded last April 15th are small relative to those who suffer similar fates in global trouble spots on a regular basis. However, it is probably the fact that Bostonians didn’t expect things like this to happen that made it so traumatic. I’ll never forget my own frantic reaction from 3,000 miles away – disbelief, then panic about those I knew who could have been in harm’s way, and finally close monitoring of the search for the perpetrators and almost incessant communication with relatives and friends who couldn’t comprehend that the city was effectively in “lock down” mode.

As the first anniversary has approached, Bostonians and others who were in the area of the marathon finish line last Patriots’ Day have been sharing their experiences of a horrifying sequence of events. By way of chilling example, Jeff Bauman, who has written a book about the devastating consequences of the bombings for him, recalls that he looked down seconds after the explosions and saw that there was a “chunky pool of blood” underneath him, that his “lower legs were gone” and that “body parts were everywhere. … not just mine.”

Our common humanity

An exhibit featuring items and messages from the makeshift memorial that was set up at the bombing site in the immediate aftermath has been created at the nearby central branch of the Boston Public Library to commemorate this first anniversary. Entitled “Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial,” it is simple, yet intensely moving, and has attracted a steady stream of invariably visibly affected individuals and groups. I took my family to see it over the weekend.

The solidarity among the incredibly diverse range of people we’ve encountered since we’ve been here – both those who call Boston home and the significant amount of visitors who have travelled here especially – is manifest and uplifting. It is unfortunate that, sometimes, it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to vitiate differences and to remind us of our common humanity.

And if it can be said that there was anything positive to come from the marathon bombings, it is that Boston, a city historically divided along several lines, seems to me today to have become more united than it had been in the past. The “Boston Strong” slogan embraced by the city in response to the bombings is still ubiquitous a year later.

Respect for first responders

In particular, the city and region have rallied around the first responders – fire fighters, police, emergency medical personnel, nurses, doctors and others – who sprang into action on that day and prevented far worse loss of life and injuries than would have been the case otherwise. There is a much deeper engrained sense of the reality that some of these men and women can’t possibly envisage the breadth of potentially life-endangering circumstances they might encounter every time they go to work. And Bostonians now respect them even more than they did before.

This respect has only grown in the wake of the sad deaths a little more than two weeks ago of fire fighters Michael Kennedy and Edward Walsh in the line of duty. Kennedy was also one of the first people on the scene of the marathon bombings. Walsh and Kennedy are just two of the litany of Irish surnames that so many of Boston’s first responders proudly bear.

In announcing today’s official ceremony to mark the first anniversary of a day we will never forget, Mayor Martin Walsh said: “On April 15, we recall the courage, compassion and commitment of our great city and its people. Through this event, Boston again stands as one: paying tribute to all those affected by last year’s events and once again showing the world that Boston’s spirit of resiliency lives on.”

I suspect that his words will provoke an emotional reaction from all who know and love the city of Boston. On April 15, 2013, I felt guilty that I wasn’t there. On April 15, 2014, there’s absolutely nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston born lawyer, Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and political columnist with IrishCentral.com.

Follow Opinion & Insight on Twitter: @TJ_Opinions

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