(This article previously appeared on Betterafter50.com)
Have you ever walked through a ghost town? There is evidence of the vibrancy and life that once had been a part of the town, but now a deafening stillness exists, and perhaps a sense of peace. Yesterday the town of Boston and its environs were modern ghost towns, victims of the circumstances and proximity to the tragic bombings that occurred earlier in the week. With an estimated population of 4.5 million, these areas are usually bustling with people and vehicles and on Friday you would be hard pressed to find either. They were still, but there was no peace.
There were black tanks rolling through the streets--men in SWAT uniforms carrying on house-to-house searches, German Shepherds rooting and hunting--all shattering what is the relative calm of an urban city.
Where am I? Is this really happening, or is it Jerry Bruckheimer at his best?
The city was at a standstill--just like during a snowstorm...but there was no snow. And as I sat in my Cambridge apartment, under lockdown by order of the powers that be, I found it hard to believe that two men could bring these cities to their knees. Were we overreating? The night before we heard there had been a shooting at MIT. We live in MIT proper--my Kendall Square neighborhood and MIT have a symbiotic relationship--we feed off each other--so it was quite disconcerting to hear the news. All the while we never imagined that the Marathon bombings were connected...
So we went to bed...
At 6am on Friday we learned the horrible news, and the truth. The suspected bombers were not only behind the shooting, but they murdered an MIT police officer and had carjacked a car just down the street. And so began my close relationship with the TV. I tried my best to do some work, read, and exercise (I said I tried--didn’t say I was successful), but the TV kept calling me back. After a long while it became apparent that I was watching a continuous scroll of reruns and listening to assumptions and sound bites. Pundits with specialties in every area of psychology, terrorism, history...you name it--weighed in on the suspects, their family, their life, what was going on inside and out. Friends from childhood who may have passed them in the halls--once--became authorities. Even their car mechanic gave a discourse.
Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, spoke of all these “expert” journalists: “We are now a nation of experts, with millions of people who know the meaning of everything that they haven’t actually experienced.”
One dead, one to go. From windows and balconies, families with little to do resorted to taking photos to document the day during their “imprisonment.” It was a search of Marathon proportion for the Marathon Bomber.
And as the day wore on...and on...and on, and daylight began to give way to night light, the lockdown was lifted. (Perhaps the public could be more useful outside their doors rather than behind them?) My husband and I did not rush out, embracing our freedom. There was still a murderer on the loose--where should we go?
And then, in a hurl of bullets and a flash of explosions (another Bruckheimer moment), Suspect #2 was discovered. Our wish for him to be taken alive was fulfilled and the surreal events of the day were over.
Did yesterday really happen? The buses and trains, and cabs are all rolling again. People are out, dogs are being walked, restaurants and bakeries are back in business. I think of the countries in which lockdowns are a normal occurrence. Where hiding in bomb shelters is a way of “life,” something that is built into the fabric of everyday normalcy. How do they do it? Does someone come around with a device a la Men in Black and zap away their memories...until the next time it happens?
There was jubilation in the streets last night, but there is no real reason to throw up our hands in a celebratory fist pump. Too many people have died and too many people are suffering. Succesfully handling the cause for yesterday’s siege is a victory, but a pyrrhic victory nonetheless.
Did yesterday really happen?