On April 15th, 2013, two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring a couple hundred more. Sometimes as a writer, something happens and you know you’re not gonna get any sleep until you put some words to paper about the whole thing. This was one of those moments. Below is the piece I wrote that day...
Are You Okay?
“Are you okay?” The text comes in on a Monday afternoon, and we immediately know that we should worry. That people don’t ask if you’re okay unless something has gone terribly wrong.
Then comes the news that there were explosions near the finish line.
I get messages from my friend in Chicago. My friend in L.A. Austin. D.C. Checking to see if I’m okay. I text the same question to my friend who works downtown, and my other friend who sometimes goes to watch the marathon.
And as I wait to hear back, I think about the helplessness of the question. About how if they were not okay, there wouldn’t be a text saying “No.” There would be no text at all. About how even if I knew they were in trouble, how could I possibly help?
But “Are you okay?” means more than just “Are you okay?” “Are you okay?” also means “I love you,” “I’m thinking of you,” “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings last week.”
I get a text from the friend I have been playing phone tag with for three weeks. We have carelessly left messages, knowing we would get another chance to “connect” at some point soon. I get a message from the friend I haven’t talked to in months. And I get a message from the one who always seems to Facebook chat me as I’m running out the door. The one to whom I always say, “I’m sorry, I gotta go,” and tell myself that they’ll understand.
I am, throughout the day, struck by how it is only the biggest lows that can make us detach from our busy lives long enough to touch base with each other.
Are you okay? is please help me to stop worrying about you. Are you okay? is I’m sorry we don’t see each other more. It is how have you been? No really, not just “good, how are you?” but really how have you been?
I call my parents because I know they worry about me at times like this because that’s how parents are. They’re silly about stuff like that. Then the phone keeps on ringing and no one is picking up and I start to wonder why they didn’t call me right when this happened. I worry that they should have called by now and if they haven’t something must be wrong. And they aren’t silly and please pick up the fucking phone.
Then they answer and I ask if they are okay and we know we love each other.
I get a text from the girl I’m going out with on Friday. “Are you okay?” We met last week and “Are you okay?” means “I’m thinking of you.” Which I am, but I am stupid and don’t want to come on too strong because it’s only been a week and we haven’t even gone out yet. And so thank goodness she’s not an idiot like me.
“Yes.” I say. “Are you okay?”
I am sad and I am upset and I am scared. And I’m scared and upset that I’m not more sad. That there’s almost a feeling of, “Oh yeah, this happens now.” As I listen to Obama’s remarks, I can’t help but think how it sounds like he’s saying, “you know the gist of this so here we go. Uh… Thoughts and prayers are with them. No democrats and Republicans, just Americans. Patriots Day.” We have been here before, and it is all upsettingly familiar.
But what is also startlingly familiar is the sight of people hearing an explosion and rushing towards the detonation site. Cops and firemen who aren’t dissuaded by the fact that there’s usually another bomb planted for the rescue crew. People who will risk their lives to make sure everyone’s okay.
The sad part is that this war will never fully be over. We will never fully beat “them.” There will always be someone who can strap on a bomb and walk downtown. The reassuring part is that as long as their moments of hatred are offset by our moments of love, they cannot possibly beat us. And as long as our first thoughts in times of tragedy are not of revenge or of ourselves, but of each other, we will always be okay.