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 Bells and the Sound of Silence: Reactions from Mile 22.2

The irony that I opened this word document at exactly 2:50pm on 4-22-13 is not lost on me. Exactly one week has passed since the tragedy. A week filled with panic, fear, confusion, terror and relief.  One week ago, I was standing in the window of one of our residence halls, overlooking Commonwealth Avenue.  A fellow co-worker read a text message from her phone in a voice that was barely audible–explosion at the finish line, sixty dead.  While the details were skewed, the tragedy was real.  I took to twitter of all things to confirm this, turned on CNN to see breaking news headlines and immediately ended up on the floor as my flimsy legs failed under such peril. I looked out my window at a race that brings such joy; to my shock the runners were still running. My physical reaction was quickly coupled with practicality, these people needed to stop and they needed to stop now. Our profession refers to responding to these incidents as “crisis management,” but that term barely brushes the actual reality of tragedy.

Within seconds, I had raced down six flights of stairs to find myself in the lobby of the building. It was there that real life intervened and paused my initial intentions. In the lobby I found an elderly woman having an asthma attack from the shock of the news. After helping her to sit up, I found her inhaler in her purse and got her a bottle of water. She could barely speak, but did manage to say that she wanted to go home. We quickly left the security of the building and met the chaos on the street. We witnessed the first few moments when Boston Police Department started to pull the runners off the raceway. I have never seen such anguish in my life. Confusion was present but the most visible reaction was anger. Runners collapsed, from the stress of the race and the emotional reaction to the news. We crossed the street and I continued walking my new acquaintance home.

It was on the walk back that I looked at my phone for the first time. Like many others, my loved ones had flooded my phone with messages and missed calls. It was in this moment that I realized the extent of the situation. While I think I do a really good job of worrying for others, I had never been the center of such concern. I sent a few texts and tried to call my family and friends but the phone lines were already jammed. I found myself at the church on campus and helped carry Gatorade and water inside for the runners. I returned to my community, an area that is highly trafficked with college festivities to find it completely quiet. Touching base with all my staff members was my first priority. After this, I checked in with my residents. Everyone was just sitting in front of his or her televisions, somber and tearful. The marathon is so popular; you do not even need to ask if students knew people in the area or who were participating in the race. Everyone knew someone, most knew many. In the first few hours, I believe this is what was so devastating. Our students had to locate their own friends and family but also reassure others that they were okay. This tragedy hit so close to home that all sense of safety and security was broken. Parents were flooding Boston College Police Department with concerned phone calls and our staff was asked to respond to a situation with few details. Initially, after the incident I responded to the community. It wasn’t until the end of the day that I was able to survey the impact of the tragedy on myself. I had not eaten, called home, or connected with my friends that ran the marathon.

I found Tuesday to be the most difficult for our students. Monday was filled with shock and left little time for processing. The next day was filled with many questions and few answers. We all needed things to make sense. Father Hamm, SJ likens this to “going through a drawer full of stuff, feeling around, and looking for something that you are sure must be there.” The Daily Examen, an Ignatian prayer of reflection, encourages us to rummage through the “stuff,” look for compassion, thanksgiving, pay attention to our feelings, and think of tomorrow. I feel that as a student affairs professional we must aid in this process. In the days following the marathon I experienced the importance of community. Students needed something to do, something to participate in together that would help them to make sense of the tragedy on a larger scale. BC students started a walk that went viral, hundreds attended a healing mass and signed banners for injured students, and the blood drive this week had no room for walk ins because of the overwhelming response. Events like this immediately help our students, while greater healing may take time. I felt proud to be part of a community that responded with such love. As a young professional in this field I have found that the majority of my time is spent filling in the blanks, responding to things that might not make sense but happen regardless. I was inspired by our students vulnerability and the support and compassion they showed for the victims. I began writing this one-week after the initial attack; last Monday I could have never imagined the impact of the citywide lockdown on our campus. Now as I hear the bells commemorating the first attack I allow myself to feel comfortable for the first time in silence. In tragedy you get used to chaos and noise but silence is so unsettling. I believe that tragedies highlight the need for our profession. We must make sense of the silence and provide safety for all of our students.

Anonymous (2) was a Master’s candidate in the Boston College Higher Education program and a Graduate Assistant in residential life at the time of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  The author’s views are their own and do not represent those of any institution, entity or individual.  Please feel free to share this on your social network of choice using the link icons below.  We also welcome you to share your reactions and stories in the comments section below so we may all benefit from your thoughts and wisdom.

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