I am an avid runner, and the bombings at the Marathon resonated with me because of my passion for the sport and my dream of someday running Boston. My dad raced it more than 10 times, and I am hell bent on qualifying someday and making him (and myself) proud. I watched the Marathon last Monday in Cleveland Circle with upwards of 10 members of my master’s cohort, and it was a day of joy, cheering, sign-holding, and fun. We were ecstatic to have a day off from work and school, and we relished the chance to hang out all day with people that we don’t get to see nearly as much as we’d like.
We were in the process of walking back to a friend’s apartment to take a break from our spectating when more than a dozen state police vehicles zoomed by us, heading toward downtown. We didn’t think much of it, given the heavy police presence throughout the city that day, so we proceeded upstairs and began preparations for a late lunch.
I don’t remember exactly how we found out about the bombings, but I do remember my friend Liz looking at her phone, running out of the kitchen, and demanding that we turn on the TV. Almost immediately, everyone went into panic mode. We were scrambling to figure out what exactly was going on, and we were frantic about the safety of our good friend and cohort member who had just finished the race.
The next few hours consisted of about 15 of us crowded into my friend’s living room around her TV, texting friends, calling loved ones, shedding tears, and sitting in a lot of stunned silence. We couldn’t fathom that such tragedy and chaos was happening a mere three miles from us, on a day that had been filled with so much excitement and celebration. No one really knew what to say, and, thankfully, no one had to. Being there together—as a cohort, as friends, and as Bostonians—was enough.
Later that afternoon, after we thought it was sufficiently safe to leave the apartment, we began parting ways. Some of us walked back to Brookline, and others were heading back to Boston College to see if they’d be able to get on campus and back into their residence halls. Thankfully, everyone got home safely, and we geared up for the next day back in class and/or at work wondering what, if anything, would be different now that this kind of thing had happened in a place and on a day that should have been safe from harm.
Kind of surprisingly, the next day—and really the entire week—was uneventful and unemotional in my office (at least until Friday). Everyone checked in and swapped stories about the events of the previous day…and then essentially went about their business attending meetings, coordinating student events, and sending emails. Despite the stories of sadness and resiliency being portrayed in the media and the #bostonstrong movement blowing up my Twitter feed, I often felt like I was the only one in my office—heck, on my floor—who was still overwhelmed by Monday’s events, got teary-eyed periodically in her cube, and wanted to talk to everyone, students and staff alike, about their experiences and feelings after the bombings.
This experience—of tragedy, crisis, and feeling alone in my grief (if that’s even the right word for what I was experiencing)—has led me to several realizations over the course of the past week:
- Higher education professionals tend to (and often have to) act first and think/feel/process later. I think a large part of the reason that I experienced such a lack of emotion in my office last week is because everyone was busy doing “damage control” and trying to mediate student events that were cropping up left and right to pay tribute to Monday’s tragedy. Residence Life folks were already exhausted from a grueling semester and from being on such high alert all day on Monday (Marathon Monday is a big duty day at BC), and the Student Programs people were scrambling to mediate the “Final 5” walk scheduled for Friday. People were busy, and sometimes busy doesn’t leave much room for emotions.
- It is so, so important to take care of yourself at a time like this. As a higher education professional, it is too easy to get caught up in student issues and campus crises and forget to focus on yourself. I’m not necessarily suggesting that one abandon their students in favor of a pedicure and a cocktail, but rather that one take the time—make the time—to practice self-care. Write in a journal, go for a run, go out with friends, eat some ice cream…whatever you need. Your students and your coworkers will benefit from you being at your best, so take the time to do what it takes to get (and keep) you there.
- Focus on the helpers. And helping these helpers. Mr. Rogers once said, ““When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” If you are a higher education or student affairs professional, you are a helper, and you contribute a lot of good to this world. You aren’t superhuman, though, and chances are that—at some point in your career—you’re going to need help. Ask for it. You also probably work with a lot of helpers who, like you, may not be so great about asking for help. So ask them if they need a hand. Check in. Ask how they’re doing, if they need support, and how you can help them to better help others.
This week, I learned that there is a lot—a LOT—of good in this world. There are helpers, heroes, runners, and cardigan-wearing children’s TV show hosts who make this world a better place on a daily basis. Although they may be more obvious in times of crisis, these people are around you. Look for them. And the good. It’s there, and there’s a good chance that you’re contributing to it.
Maureen Halton was a Master’s Candidate in the Boston College Higher Education program, and a Graduate Assistant at Boston College 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. You can reach out to Maureen directly via twitter or email. 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.