I think it’s safe to say that it’s been the longest week of my life. Yet I’m glad that I can sit here and say that it has been a week in my life. I sit here reflecting on my week and tearing up, and fighting back these tears because I feel like I’ve cried enough for two lifetimes this past week. But these tears during my reflection are much different from those earlier on in the week. These current ones have sentiments of gratefulness and warmth.
This past Monday was Marathon Monday for Boston. An annual day that is supposed to be conceptually amazing, but I haven’t grasped onto this concept yet. Mostly because Harvard is probably the only school in the area that still holds classes on Marathon Monday. [MIT has both Marathon Monday AND the Tuesday after off! WHAT.] I was complaining TONS last weekend about how disrespectful it is to hold classes on such a glorious day. Living near Boston, we Harvard students have the right to partake in the festivities and excitement of Marathon Monday, but classes crush all the hopes of potential community building. In past years, I’ve tried to live vicariously through my bold friends who have skipped classes to join in on the fun though. Since I can’t articulate the hype for myself, this is the best article I’ve found that relays the greatness of Marathon Monday.
At first it seemed like this year would be different. I had initially planned to unofficially run the marathon until I had a midterm scheduled later that day. Being stubborn, I compromised and was determined to go to the race to see my two best friends finish their first marathon – a lofty goal that many, including myself, aspire to achieve. Utilizing my 2 hour gap between classes, I planned to book it to the marathon finish line, watch the exhausted-stricken yet glory-filled faces of my best friends finish, and still make it back in time for my 4 pm Neurobiology tutorial.
It was a beautiful Monday afternoon that felt like what the first day of Spring should feel like. Walking through Boston Commons to the finish line got me really excited because so many finishers were already walking (read: limping) around with their medals – I was so excited to see my friends!! Minutes after settling in a clear area in front of the Boston Public Library, I began searching the crowd. It seemed like fate was on my side when I saw one of my blockmates limping around. I redirected his limping by calling his name. I gave him all my water and even offered him my apple. I was so proud of and impressed by him and was probably looking at him like he was a real, live superhero. I was also secretly jealous that I couldn’t run the marathon and live in glory like he was. He then limped off to replenish his fuel as I continued to carefully scan the crowds of people finishing around the 4 hour mark. I saw a few more friends and congratulated them, but I just wanted to see my best friend! Before I could catch sight of her, the loudest and unexpected boom made me jump and cover my ears. I initially thought there were celebratory fireworks at the finish line at the 4 hour mark, the average time people finished a marathon. When I looked over, I couldn’t help but squint from the massive clouds of smoke and gasp at the sight of chunks of building falling onto the street. I felt fear for the people standing right under that area, and before I could really process anything else, another boom reverberated through the finish line. There I found myself, alone, on the same side of the street and on the same block of the 2 explosions when spectators among me began to shriek in fear and yell “RUN.”
I hopped the fence dividing spectators from runners as it seemed like the best thing to do was to get away from any and all buildings. As I looked around myself, I only saw chaotic crowds of people and tall buildings that all could have very well exploded too. I didn’t know where to go, no one knew what was going on. A woman beside me started crying and that’s when it hit me that something was terribly wrong. My first instinct was to call my sister. As I thanked God that she picked up the phone, my voice trembled as I quickly explained to her I was at the Boston Marathon and I think 2 bombs just went off…I’m okay…and I’ll call you back as soon as I can…but I’m okay. I sent a quick text to everyone who I knew was at the marathon as I tried to gather sensory information about where people were going and how they were reacting. I even considered running towards the explosion to find my friend, but ended up waiting near the runner baggage claim area to try to run into her there. But as police and ambulances instantaneously responded, crowds were encouraged to go home. Public transportation had stopped, there was already heavy congestion due to road blockage from the marathon, and it just seemed like the only way home was to walk. Fortunately, I’m an avid runner and was familiar with the area and how to get back to campus. On my trek back, I called and texted a ton of people as I shamelessly cried on the street. My phone battery gave out about a half mile before I returned to campus.
Once back on campus, I ran to the library to charge my phone. I definitely wasn’t going to make it to my 4 pm tutorial, and I was unsure about my 7 pm midterm. I didn’t feel safe anywhere and I couldn’t stop worrying about my friends at the marathon. I was almost thankful for the midterm so I could try to get my mind on something else. Everything was cancelled for the rest of the day as the news caught on. I had been through so much in a matter of just a few hours. I may or may not have shamelessly, hysterically cried when reunited with the friends I was worrying about.
There’s only really one good thing I can extract from this experience, but this one thing is beyond profound. Everyone and their mothers (literally) called, texted, emailed, Facebook’d, etc. to try to contact me to check and see if I was okay. Family members and friends that I consider family from college to high school – and even science camp – reached out and the sense of community grew stronger than my fear. I’m the kind of person who is pretty confident in my relationships with people, but the reaffirmation of everyone’s support is truly touching and I can’t thank everyone enough!!
One of the first people to email me was my Resident Dean. Every upperclassman house has a Resident Dean who pretty much is the fluid glue holding the house together. My house, Mather, has a new Resident Dean this year, who is absolutely phenomenal. I spoke to him once in the fall for maybe all of 6 minutes about classes and he’s remembered my name and always greets me around Mather! He emailed me concerned about my well being because my name was on the list for a student-organized bus that left to the marathon’s starting line in the morning. I had given up my bus seat to my blockmate though once I realized I had a midterm the same day. I emailed him back with a very brief synopsis of my story and told him that my blockmate and I were okay even though I hadn’t seen him since before the explosions. When I was reunited with my blockmates though, my friend told me that it was the Resident Dean who told him I was safe. All the Resident Deans from every house made sure to individually check on the well being of all their students. In fact, before I was reunited with my friends, I ran into my Resident Dean’s office to thank him profusely for checking up on me!
The Crimson, the student run newspaper on campus, also quickly compiled a list of names they published online who were confirmed to be safe.
National headquarters of the 4 sororities incited their emergency procedure to take roll call and make sure each chapter member was safe. I’ve also received follow up emails from Kappa Alpha Theta extending their support through their hotline services.
The very next day, the university held a beautiful and necessary candlelight vigil where President Faust, the president of the Undergraduate Council, and a student who participated in the marathon all spoke eloquently. The Harvard community quickly as well as strongly grouped together in support.
Here are some of my favorite links I’ve found regarding the marathon:
And when we thought the worst was over, we were hit with the unfortunate and unnecessary events at MIT, Watertown, and other areas surrounding Boston. The city was on lock down (maybe except for Dunkin Donuts…) and the unknown future became that much more frightening and threatening. As my friends and I continued to stay together and check up on each other on campus, the university staff really excelled as they always do in times of need. Harvard tried to keep students updated through their emergency system, MessageMe, that sends texts and emails (and they might have more options I have yet to subscribe to!).
I’m beyond thankful the horrible situation is over. And I can never sufficiently express my infinite thank yous to all the ridiculously loving people in my life. It’s definitely been one of the hardest and most enduring week of my life, but it means so much more to me that I’ve survived it. Harvard has definitely thrown me some of the most challenging – even life-challenging – obstacles my way: from risky experiences abroad, to blizzard-full East Coast winters, to #BostonStrong, but Harvard has also, no doubt, prepped me for these challenges and hard times.
I know a lot of accepted students were suppose to come out this weekend and I was really looking forward to greeting you at the Admissions Office!! I hope you understand our difficult situation compelled us to make the safest decision to cancel prefrosh weekend/Visitas and please accept our apologies from the bottom of all our hearts. The Class of 2017 Facebook group is super active with current students offering their advice and #virtualvisitas is a real, trending thing so take us up on the offers!!