Lisa Hickey was changed by the bombings, in unexpected ways. Here, she shares how.
The first bomb went off at 2:50 pm on Monday, April 15, 2013 at the finish line of The Boston Marathon. I was watching the race and I knew my daughter Allie would be running down Boylston Street any minute. I heard the blast, and in the 10 seconds before the second blast several thoughts raced through my head. The first thought was, “Odd they would have a cannon going off before the race is completely over.” But then, as I looked to my left and saw the smoke thick in the crowd, in a place where no cannon should be, I grabbed the blue sweater on my daughter Shannon’s arm. “What’s going on?” she asked, her voice rising with fear. “A gas explosion?” I replied, uncertainly. There must have been screams, but in my mind there is complete silence. That moment, as I turned to look at the smoke, squinting quizzically as I searched for clues to make sense of what I saw, is frozen and imprinted in my mind. I can see the blue sky, the small tree to my right, the flags, the smoke in a perfect plume. It was the first of many, many times in the next few days that I would get limited information, look for clues and try to make sense of things I didn’t understand. “Let’s go”, I said to Shannon, as we turned away from the first explosion and ran directly towards the spot where the second bomb was about to go off.
Yesterday, at 11:05 pm on Friday, April 19, 2013 I watched on live streaming news as the citizens of Boston poured onto Boston Common and began singing “The Start Spangled Banner” and “Sweet Caroline”. It reminded me that total strangers who come together ad hoc can’t sing in tune. It didn’t matter. The sound was as joyous as that first blast was terrifying. Just four days after that first explosion, Bostonians had come back to celebrate. The sounds in the hours before that celebration had included gunshots, blasts, helicopters, sirens, police scanners, press conferences and officers knocking on doors to look for a missing suspect. I listened to the sound of bad singing come out of tinny speakers on my computer, and together with others, breathed a collective sigh of relief. I had just retweeted on Twitter:
“Boston is probably the only major city that if you f*ck with them, they will shut down the whole city…stop everything..and find you.”
When the suspect—a 19-year-old kid whom I had since learned about in a multitude of ways—was captured, I wanted to say “we” helped get him. As if I was the man who saw blood on the tarp of the boat in his backyard and alerted the police. I can imagine the boat owner standing there, momentarily frozen in space and time as I had been days before, trying to process the dark red stain of the blood and knowing that what he saw was about to change everything.
The boom of the second blast was when I knew everything was about to change. I mean, the BOOM. A sound 10x louder than the loudest clap of thunder I had ever heard. A deep, resonating, vibrating, sonorous BOOM. If I let my mind go there, I can recreate the exact tenor of the sound. I fell. I thought to myself, “uh-oh, I just survived an explosion but am about to be trampled to death.” I reached around for my glasses, which had gone flying. It was only days later that the dark blue, perfectly round bruises up and down the outside of my left leg, the leg facing the bomb, gave me enough information to realize I had fallen because I had been hit. As I lay there looking at legs running past me, a kind stranger stopped mid-way to his escape to help me up. My daughter Shannon was sobbing, trying to phone her sisters, her brother, her father, all of whom she knew was somewhere in the crowd. “I can’t get in touch with anyone, mom. I have to find them.”
I stood there with Shannon and heard someone in the crowd yell “It’s a bomb”. My mind went back to the first explosion. The smoke. The flags. It clicked. “It’s the Boston Marathon we’re at,” the voice inside me said. “Of course it’s a bomb.”
What has changed for me in the past four days, other than everything?
1) I now have bomb experience. Last night, just minutes after the second suspect had been captured, my son John and I were discussing tourniquets. “It should be as close as possible to the injury as possible, right mom?” Yes. And wide and tight. At least 1-1/2” thick. I had no reason to know that before. But 13 limbs were amputated in the blast. 13 people helped with tourniquets. And now I know. “I want to learn everything I can about how to help,” said John after the blast. “Part of the reason for running away is that I wouldn’t have known what to do if someone needed help. I want to know.”
2) I understand and accept that news is different in today’s world. The news is no longer merely “reported” on, but it is collectively experienced in real time. This is not going to change. I would rather understand the implications, understand the consequences to the change, and find ways to use it for good. I want to keep learning about how this will affect the way things are.
A phrase that kept coming up as the Boston region was in a lockdown while the police were looking for the second suspect was that it was a “fluid” situation. The situation was fluid because what was known kept changing. And one more piece of information could change everything.
I had heard about the MIT guard shooting on Facebook while sitting at my computer. Some time later, I heard some loud noises. I jumped. “Wow, you’ve become jumpy since the blasts,” I told myself. But then there were sirens, and the sounds of helicopters – in reality. Outside the street where I lived. “Oh no, not again.” I thought. Once again, I had to make sense of information that was not giving me a complete picture of all I needed to know. So I turned to Twitter.
For the record, Twitter did not give me the complete set of information either. But it gave me a combination of first person stories – tweets from people in Watertown, the town just blocks from my house. People were sharing pictures of SWAT teams and soldiers. There were links to the mainstream media. I had heard sounds, and people on Twitter put a name to what I was hearing. “Gunshots”.
The reason this is so important to understand is this: When I was at the bombing, I was the news. And the first news outlet I told about the bombing was Twitter. Later, I would be on radio broadcasts (Al-Jazeera), make TV appearances (Headline News) and do print interviews (The Guardian, GoLocal Providence). But at the moment when everything was happening to me, the question wasn’t “where do I go for breaking news?” The question was, “where do I go when I am breaking news?” And my first, instinctual response was Twitter. Because I knew the news would get to lots of people fast. People who might need to know the very information I was giving them. The second thing I did after tweeting was call a GMP Editor. So the information could get out more accurately. The story of that call is here.
And not only did the news reporting change, but crowd-sourcing for critical information became a reality. Within hours of the moment the FBI released photos of the two suspects to the public, things began to happen. Some of the things that happened were catastrophic. An MIT police officer was killed, and others injured. Some of the things that happened were the desired outcome. The suspects were apprehended. The question is, how do we take a such a powerful tool, understand the potential consequences and work together to use it for good? We need to figure it out. And I want to be among those that helps figure it out. When it comes to ever-changing technology, no longer do I wait for others to figure it out and tell me what they learned. I want to be knee-deep in the process. I know I don’t have all the information; I know I don’t know everything. That is OK. If I learned anything through this, it is that I never had all the information I needed. It was collective, shared, information that made a difference.
3) I had an amazing insight about men. Yes, I am head of The Good Men Project. And so, I get new insights about men all the time. But this one insight seems life-changing to me: “Acts of heroism are acts of love.”
Why is this life-changing? Because I don’t think the narrative out there right now is that men are constantly involved in deep, fundamentally good, acts of love. All the time. Men are not talked about, as a group, as being demonstrative of their love. Of being ongoing catalysts for acts of goodness. And yet they do that all the time. I think the narrative is that men take heroic actions because they are told it’s a role they must play, because men are “supposed” to be strong, supposed to be brave. Because they are “manning up” the way they were taught to. If love is talked about with men, it is in the context of sexuality. When men are called “lovers”, it is often code for “womanizers”. But men act in love, and show that love, all the time. For some unfathomable reason, we call it something else.
I don’t think men get enough credit for love.
Yes, I changed. I learned, as Drew Diaz explains, you walk towards those who need help, or walk away. I learned you embrace the way technology is changing and make a conscious decision to be a part of the group who helps make it better, or you ignore the changes. I learned you can see men as capable of deep, world-changing love, every single day, or you can believe they are the enemy.
I changed because there was so much strength, so much kindness, so much love. And there was nothing left to do but look for the good.
Yes, I changed. And I’m reminded of the lyrics from the musical Wicked to tell me exactly how I’ve been changed: “I have been changed…for good.” Sing it with me, will ya?
UPDATE: (There’s always an update lately. The stories don’t end) I finally drove up to see Allie, the daughter I had connected with only by text at the Boston Marathon bombings but hadn’t seen since before they all happened. Yay! How great is a hug! We compared war stories, literally. She told how she was running that last mile of the race, full of energy, and when people started saying “the race is over”, she thought she hadn’t made it there in time to get an official time. Then she heard “two bombs went off at the finish line” – and she had no perspective to know how big the bombs were. So she was picturing the type of bombs that airplanes drop in war, or the explosions at 9/11. That was her only frame of reference. So she immediately pictured the finish line leveled, a gaping hole in the earth, and thought “My whole family must be dead. I’m an orphan. And it’s all my fault for having them come to see me run.” She was not with anyone she knew at the time, had to borrow the phone of a complete stranger before she could text me “mom, it’s allie, are you ok?”
The second thing she asked me which was interesting was whether I saw the second bomb, since I was right there running towards it trying to get away from the first. And – no. I heard it – an loudness unimaginable. I felt the earth tremble and tilt and everything was disoriented. I felt myself crumble. I smelt the smoke, and saw legs go by as I was on the ground. But no, I didn’t see the second bomb go off – I simply experienced it.
PS: All is good. My leg looks worse but feels better. My words may sound painful when I write, but I am so eternally grateful. My heart and thoughts are still with the victims and their families and all of the amazing first responders. I was simply there. I am a witness, and it seems from the response I’ve gotten, my story is important. But it is not that important in the scheme of things. It is only one of many.
Photo by @danteramos / Twitter