Grasping for answers to Boston’s bombing, Joanna Schroeder lands on the only thing with any meaning in an out-of-control world.
Where were you when you learned about the two bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon?
I was getting into my car and the phone rang. It was my boss (and dear friend) Lisa Hickey, but she didn’t speak when I answered. There were probably 15 seconds of noise coming through the phone. I said “Hello?” again. The noises I heard became thoughts in my mind. Sirens, people yelling, the phone being jostled, someone breathing on the other end.
I tried to make sense of it. Maybe she pocket-dialed me. But the sirens were loud and there were a lot of them. I realized maybe she had been in accident and someone was calling to tell me. I started to worry.
I said “HELLO?!” with more panic. She finally said, “I’m at the finish line. Two bombs went off.”
“What!?” I’d heard, but I couldn’t believe I’d heard it.
“Two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.”
And she was disconnected. Where were her kids? I knew her daughter was running that day. I tried to figure out what she wanted me to know. I called my husband, crying, “Lisa said two bombs at the Boston Marathon, right there, where she is.”
He looked online, it wasn’t on the news anywhere yet. It had just happened.
I called her back and left a message, totally panicked. “Where is your daughter? Get out of there!”
She texted about 10 minutes later that she was okay. Then later a text that 3 of her 4 kids and their dad were okay. And finally that Allie, the runner, was okay.
Where were you when you found out that one of those who was murdered in Boston’s bombing was an 8 year-old boy?
I was in my bedroom. I sat down and tried not to cry. I have an 8 year-old boy. He and my other son, who is 5, were playing in the other room. I didn’t want to upset them. I took a deep breath.
An 8 year-old boy. Why hadn’t I imagined that some of those people Lisa saw bleeding would be children? I felt like my chest was being squeezed and I couldn’t get air.
Is all of this worse when you have kids of your own? My dad says that having kids is like walking around in the world with a part of yourself entirely detached from your body.
My dad’s kids are 39, 35, 33, and 27 now, and he has 5 grandkids under the age of 10. He worries about us, but tries to make it seem like he doesn’t. I can see in my mom that she worries, too. So apparently it never ends. This is what we do, this is who we are now, forever. We are put on this earth to worry about these beings we helped create.
These are the moments when I wish I had Religion.
I envy those who say, “It’s God’s plan.” I wish I believed that. Instead, I float between spirituality, agnosticism, new age-y stuff and my childhood teachings about Jesus the loving father and a benevolent God.
I still pray for my family. I imagine God protecting them. I ask God regularly, “Please, God, protect the innocent lives in this world” knowing that so many innocent lives are lost or sacrificed to greed, disease, poverty, and predatory humans despite my silly voice. But I still do it. I don’t know why. I guess it’s better to try than to give up hope.
So how do we keep our children safe? My guess is that most parents are walking around in something of haze today asking themselves the same thing. We are thinking about the beautiful face of Martin, who is missing the same teeth in his photographs as my 8 year-old son. His mom has massive head injuries. His sister has had a leg amputated. Another little boy, Aaron Hern, is only 11 and has very serious injuries as a result of the explosion. I am filled with rage at whomever did this. My fists clench with fury and frustration.
I think of my sons, at the ends of the races I’ve finished. It’s fun for kids to watch the runners come in, they love to cheer. My 8 year-old even enjoys being encouraging to strangers, “You’re doing it, buddy!” “Yeah! Go! You got it!” Runners can’t help but smile when a little kid is telling them to keep going. I imagine Martin was much the same.
And then he’s gone.
My husband said, “I’m never going to a marathon.”
He knows that doesn’t make sense. It’s not about the marathon. It’s just a thing to say to feel like we have control for maybe one second of life.
I thought, “I don’t think it’s worth taking the kids into crowds.”
But what does that mean for my kids? No airports? No Disneyland? No going to The Grove to see Santa in December? No Clippers games, no watching Supercross? No Coachella when they’re teenagers with something to prove?
It’s not realistic and I know that, but I need to think it through. I bet you’re thinking it through today, too. How do we keep them safe? It’s how we grasp at the cords that are tugging on our souls right now.
What are the chances that our kids are going to be harmed or killed in a coordinated effort like a bombing or a terrorist attack (in the United States)? Extremely, extremely slim. According to this chart by the CDC, the leading cause of death for children in every age group is Unintentional Injury.
The second cause of death is cancer or birth defects. These two groups make up the vast, vast majority of childhood deaths.
What are unintentional injuries? Mostly car accidents and car-related injuries, but also drowning, burns and other falls. Murder or terrorism are not unintentional deaths.
So we put them in the safest car seats, keep them in booster seats until they’re 8 years old, per the law. I don’t text while I drive. I pay attention. I put my kids in helmets when they ride bikes. I drive a safe car.
My husband and I stand next to them in the ocean when they’re jumping waves, ready to help if they get caught in a rip. We are the parents who sit on the side of the pool during pool parties and keep eyes on our kids, even when there’s a lifeguard. Maybe we’re over-protective, but we don’t care. We do what we can do.
We do what we can do, knowing that in the grand scheme of things it’s just not that much.
When all of Lisa’s family was safe, Shannon said to her mom, “I thought I was going to die.”
As a 17 year-old, this is reality for Shannon’s generation. Most of us parents didn’t grow up in a USA of mass-killings. But her generation understands it all too well. Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech, Ohio, Aurora, Newtown . . . that is these kids’ reality. She heard a bomb explode, she saw in real life what she’s seen on too many news reels: smoke, sirens, screaming, hundreds of people running. She probably thought, “now it’s my turn.”
But it wasn’t.
Lisa told me on the phone, her voice trembling, that her daughter had said, “I thought I was going to die. And I don’t even know what that means.”
I tried not to cry. I told myself, just listen.
“But at least I lived a good life,” was what Shannon had said to her mom next.
And that is our edict.
Yes, we as parents are here to protect them, and we must continue to do so. But above all, we are here to give them a good life.
So that’s what I’ll try to do from now until I, myself, am gone. I will try to give my kids a good life—for Martin and the others whose lives have been lost to senseless violence.
Also read Lisa Hickey’s account of being on a block between two bombs.
Lead photo: AP/Winslow Townson