I’ve been back in Boston since Tuesday August 13th but it feels like I’ve been here all summer. The apartment finally looks like it’s reverted back to its normal state with the tables cleared of random papers, the dishes in their proper cupboards, and the sink free from any leftovers. I think that I succeeded in all of my initial goals for my return back to my college town: make some money to counteract the cost of self-maintenance and travel, explore a bit more of Boston, and say goodbye to old friends. The first goal was easily accomplished through the Boston University employment office where I applied for a quickie job. A quickie job through Boston University usually involves a student usually applying for few hours-long job that someone needs. This usually involves something like moving furniture or babysitting or being a translator during a meeting. I applied for three jobs, and was called back by this woman in Newton, MA who needed help moving. She lived around the mile 18 marker on the Boston Marathon route on Commonwealth Avenue. It was one of the most interesting jobs that I have ever worked. Her family was old and rich. Her still-living mother was in her 90’s, the woman was in her 60’s, her daughter in her 40’s and still living with them. The house was a corner house and beautiful. The woman in her 60’s, who was a Justice of the Peace, used to be an art dealer so the house was filled with dozens of professionally framed drawings, paintings, and canvas. The first day I biked the 7 mile route from my house to theirs, and impressed them because they suggested that I take the T instead so that I wouldn’t be too tired. I first met her husband, who used to be an accountant, and we struck up a small-talk conversation. However, as soon as his wife, the justice, stepped in he turned to go upstairs up to his cluttered office.
The justice offered some snacks to me and then told me how we needed to load her rented UHaul van with boxes and bins. I started right away and made sure to make efficient use of the available space in the UHaul. I spent about an hour carrying and packing the boxes away. She was very impressed with my work, and we drove the van over to the new apartment. You see, the family was downsizing from a full-sized family house to a much smaller one. I helped her unload all of the bins and boxes using some bellhop carts, and then unwrapping all of the individually wrapped jars, plates, and pots of porcellain ranging from Budapestian porcellain to the Meissener Pozellan. Her 90+ year old mother and her sister came to help as well. As we were unwrapping, she asked me if it would be alright with me if I worked for a few more hours that day. I agreed, and she quickly asked if I wouldn’t mind working for a few more days at the same monetary rate offered for that quickie job. I told her that I would be free for few more days and would love to work with her. I was fed dinner, paid $140 for 7 hours of work, and then driven home by her sister who was very intrigued with me.
And so I continued working for them at the rate of $20/hour. And it was one of the most fulfilling jobs that I have ever had the pleasure of doing well. I would wake up in my apartment here on Ashford Street, clean it up a bit more, and then head over to Newton to the family house where I would help the justice bubblewrap famous $10,000 oil paintings surrounded by $600 frames, carried more bins and boxes to the UHaul van, and even helped her husband the accountant clean up and organize his cluttered office. That last one was also cool, because I was called by him the night before and asked if I could help him. He said that he trusted me and that there were some documents that were so personal and important that he didn’t want the movers touching them. I was greatly honored by his request to allow me access to his personal items. And so we commenced the cleanup of his office. We moved electronics, papers and bills from the past two decades, and dozens of office supplies.
I learned a lot about that family that day. I learned that they were rich, had many things, but also had each other. The accountant and the justice struck me as hard workers. And I always impressed them with my math and science skills, because the family appeared to be more logically, administratively, and artistically inclined but not so much mathematically and scientifically inclined except for the accountant. The hardest part was parting with the things that they have had. It was hard for the justice, because it seemed that she had a long story associated with the life of the artist of a painting we were wrapping, a vignette connected to a piece of clothing that fell out of a bin we were carrying, or a tidbit about something that I said that reminded her of something. But she was also selling or giving away so much of her stuff. And she would confide in me that I was such a Godsend because she wouldn’t have known how to move her important possessions without someone else helping. The accountant was a larger man and had trouble walking, and the 40 year old daughter was still living at home and was having job problems. It almost seemed that this justice was the matriarch of the family and supporting it with her tireless will.
Literally, it almost felt like both she and I were the only ones doing work. But as annoyed as she appeared to be, and as much as they all bickered as a traditional New England family with its white-collar problems, it still struck me as one amazingly beautiful story about a family going through a tough time before it moved on and grew. Their house was definitely shrinking in size, but that only seemed to bring them closer together. It was cute to hear the justice still call her 90+ year old mother “Mommy.”
I asked the justice what she learned about moving out, and she told me that she learned about how one can accumulate so much stuff that is not needed. She learned that what she needed was just good friends and family and a few cherished things. And so I labored, cleaned, and ate with this family and shared stories. We would mainly just talk about the Peace Corps and my eventual deployment to Uganda, Africa this coming November. She would then ask me about my travels and I would tell her about my Dresden Study Abroad Semester and my summer internship in Berlin and my recent Eurotrip with my two best friends this summer. She talked about her own travels and experiences throughout mainland Europe, and her husband would talk about his travels in Eastern Europe right after the wall fell. And on the rides home, her sister would talk about her daughter’s study abroad semester in Barcelona. We shared stories about our successes and our failures, and a small part of our beliefs.
Sometimes the justice would just stop our working to tell me a 5-10 minute story about a couple whom she had just married. This justice really did not want to preside over “cookie-cutter” marriages. She would sometimes offer her own backyard and parlor room to host the legal ceremony for Massachusetts’ couples. And then she would have a small cake with some candles in order to celebrate for a while with the two. But one of the most beautiful stories was about these two women whom she had married in the Arnold Arboretum. She was with one of them at the entrance and the other woman in the marriage was running a bit late. They had chosen to be married at a specific spot near the entrance of the Arboretum, because that was the spot where they would meet since they both worked different shifts as nurses at different hospitals. But then a group of young college students plopped down at that exact spot. The justice walked over to them and inquisitively asked them why they had picked this exact spot. Naturally the students responded, “Uh, I dunno. It just seemed like a good spot.” The justice then informed them that they had every right to be on that spot, but that if they chose to stay then they would be in the middle of a wedding ceremony. The kids then stated that of course they would leave. And as they were leaving one of them shouted, “You look so beautiful,” to the bride who as already in the Arboretum.
I eventually finished up my last day of work with them, and was then invited to join the entire family, including the sister, her husband, the Barcelona daughter, and a close family cousin called Bunny in order to celebrate the 93rd birthday of the justice’s mommy. It was an emotional meal, because the sister shared a toast about how this would be the last meal in this house after almost 2 decades of family reunions, parties, marathon barbecues, and get-togethers with families and friends. It was stressed that this was a house and not a home and that the home was wherever they all were as a family and where the apartment now is. It was a beautiful toast, and the food was amazing and consisted of cucumber and sausage lasagna, Caesar salad, and keylime pie. The sister had made it all, but she professed that she wasn’t a good cook. I bid my farewells to all of them, and exchanged emails with the justice, the accountant, the sister, Bunny, and the sister’s husband. I promised to keep in touch with my endeavors and to share my Peace Corps blog when I leave. I promised to send them messages from time-to-time, and then I was driven back along the Marathon route of Commonwealth Avenue and back to the land of bohemian musicians, college students, broken glass, and a very different family in a very different home that I was more used to.
I know that I haven’t written in this blog for long time, and I’ve mainly done stream-of-consciousness, but I decided to finally spend some of my free time writing here just to keep me grounded and put my thoughts down on paper. I don’t think that I was in the right state of mind to write down my feelings after the events of Marathon Monday/Patriot’s Day. So right now, after the fact I am now able to give life to my thoughts and words as well as to fulfill my role as archivist and historian of these events that have transpired.
On Saturday I was at a party with a friend and I remember having a nostalgic moment with her. We talked about how it is ridiculous that we can literally start counting down the days until graduation, and how classes will end within a month’s time. The talk eventually settled around how we had all travelled around the world and grown from our four years worth of experiences here. I then said, “We have all become displaced,” and our conversation fell silent amid the din of keg-stands, beer pong, and blasting Top 40 pop music. We had come to a moment when we realized that college students and those who grow up in life look for a home. We are displaced in our minds, through our emotions, and in our physical locations when we leave for college and new lands. That realization that college will soon end had already hit us and we are now desperately grasping to share moments among the friends whom we love.
So on Sunday night before Marathon Monday, I travelled from Boston University backwards from the Marathon Finish Line all the way to the starting line at Hopkinton. I journeyed there with two friends, a member of the BU cycling team Michael Wexler and a member of the BU track team Michael Bhat. We biked through the night on the marathon route and eventually made our way to the starting line. We literally chilled there in the almost freezing temperature until the rest of the Midnight Cyclists that had arrived at the Southboro Commuter Rail stop led the first wave of cyclists past the finish line. I biked back the entire way to Copley alongside the hundreds of other professional and casual cyclists who joined together in solidarity to bike the marathon route. I get to the finish line, and it felt like a moment of peace after an arduous journey there and back again. We take some pictures and I head back home to my apartment to finish making several gallons of sangria in preparation for intense Marathon Monday day-drinking.
I sleep well for a few hours and awake to my roommate and her friends pre-gaming in our living room. Before I could even fully open my eyes, I already take a few gulps of vodka and sprite. The rest of the day involves an adventure through the pre-gaming areas of Allston. I made it to a courtyard where hipsters were tossing a Frisbee disk, hippie girls were hula-hooping, my indie friend was taking Polaroid pictures, stoners were drinking cannabis-infused creamer, bros were passing a football, and drunk biddies were belting Beyonce songs.
I drank here for a bit, then left to another place where I got to play Fusion, a mixture of beer pong and flip cup. Ahh it feels like ages ago, but the day felt so wide and so warm. There were friends everywhere, and all were invited to partake in a breakfast of eggs and kegs. I split off from the pregaming a little bit after noon, and walked towards south campus where the runners were going down Beacon Street. There were only smiles everywhere as I weaved in and out of apartments filled with European girls, Lebanese smokers, and cheering frat bros. I walked down the Beacon Street T lines towards Park Drive where the majority of my engineering friends were all cheering, dancing, and laughing with each other. I just felt so happy to be celebrating my last Marathon Monday with the friends whom I cared about and those whom I had shared my college experience with. This place had become my home, and I was sharing this gloriously beautiful day with my college family. These were the poignant moments of hugs with old friends, small adventures of drinking sangria behind garbage bins, and solidarity as a Boston community cheering on an event of almost superhuman endurance and skill.
And then around 3pm we started hearing rumors of a bomb. Most of us dismissed it as fear-mongering and just went about our normal activities of cheering and drinking. And then the texts and alarmed calls started flooding in and people started to take notice. The police started checking people’s bags even if they were unattended for a few moments, and even I got manhandled a small bit as the cops angrily asked if that was my bag lying unattended on the sidewalk.
Around that time, the marathon runners started getting diverted and the cops instructed spectators to start heading indoors. I took refuge inside one of the South Campus apartments with several of my friends and few other BU classmates. It was a very intense atmosphere; with one guy in tears saying how he felt like it was 9/11 all over again. We all tried to sober up as fast as we could, and when I looked out of the window the streets were all deserted and not a single marathon runner could be seen anymore.
I felt distraught, and the tv kept broadcasting the same message on all channels:
“BUPD has reports of an explosion near the finish line of Boston marathon on Boyleston St. Information that people are injured in that area. Please remain out of the area of the marathon route. Remain indoors and return to your residence at this time. More information to follow.”
I then made my way to Marsh Chapel where a few people had already congregated. I needed to clear my head, so I knelt down in prayer by one of the pews. I then made it back west to the Allston area and back to my apartment where I finally got internet access and saw the live-stream of what had occurred. What hit me the hardest was hearing about the casualties and the dozens of amputees. I literally empathized and started to feel like an emotional wreck realizing how so many people who had trained their whole lives for a these moments of joy and celebration could have their entire lives taken away. A lot has already been said about this issue, but there is always more room to share one’s story.
I just didn’t know, all I could ask myself was why? Why? Why did someone do this? What was there to gain from this tragic attempt to steal away people’s joy? I never found an answer that day, but instead I found an overwhelming feeling of the human spirit. All around me there were acts of human kindness, love, and generosity. The technology that we have said distances people from interpersonal relationships brought people closer together in times of crises that could not have happened before. I literally had dozens of texts and calls from friends, acquaintances, and loved ones near and far just to ensure that I was safe. I even got long-distance calls from friends studying abroad thousands of miles away. Then there were the Facebook posts, articles, stories, and pictures sharing how good can come from this evil. And that is what I wanted to share today; the goodness that eventually triumphs over the bad, the love that wins over hatred, and the good works that unite all humans together. The following are links to articles that have demonstrated the overwhelming response of people who have decided to look for the light in a day that was clouded.
“Runners know that timing is everything… And I will never forget that 7 minutes after I crossed the finish line Boston felt the first explosion… I’m so grateful to be alive”
~Rosie Woods (One of my BU friends)
“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~Martin Luther King Jr.
“Boston is a tough, resilient town, and so are its people.”
“This tragedy is not going to stop Boston… We will not let terror take us over.”
~ Boston Mayor, Thomas Menino
“There’s something particularly devastating about an attack on a marathon. It’s an epic event in which men and women appear almost superhuman. The winning men run for hours at a pace even normal fit people can only hold in a sprint. But it’s also so ordinary. It’s not held in a stadium or on a track. It’s held in the same streets everyone drives on and walks down. An attack on a marathon is, in some ways, more devastating than an attack on a stadium; you’re hitting something special but also something very quotidian. When we find out who did this, we may well find some fascination with the event—perhaps a foreign terrorist, or a sick American. Perhaps it was someone who spotted a terribly easy target. Or perhaps it was someone who saw a reflection of the human spirit and decided just to try to shatter it.”
~Nicholas Thompson, New Yorker
“As some of you know, I was 1/2 mile from the finish line when the explosion went off. I had no idea what was going on until I finally stopped and asked someone. Knowing that my family was at the finish line waiting for me, I started panicking, trying to call them. Diverted away from the finish line, I started walking down Mass Ave towards Symphony Hall still not knowing where my family was. Right before the intersection of Huntington, I was able to get in touch with Brian and found out he was with my family and they were safe. I was just so happy to hear his voice that I sat down and started crying. Just couldn’t hold it back. At that moment, a couple walking by stopped. The woman took the space tent off her husband, who had finished the marathon, and wrapped it around me. She asked me if I was okay, if I knew where my family was. I reassured her I knew where they were and I would be ok. The man then asked me if I finished to which I nodded “no.” He then proceeded to take the medal off from around his neck and placed it around mine. He told me “you are a finisher in my eyes.” I was barely able to choke out a “thank you” between my tears.
Odds are I will never see this couple again, but I’m reaching out with the slim chance that I will be able to express to them just what this gesture meant to me. I was so in need of a familiar face at that point in time. This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be ok.”
“Today, in the place I have called home, there is no doubt in my mind where this goes from here. If you have lived in Boston, you probably already know this. If you haven’t, let me assure you, that you need not doubt the strength or spirit of this particular American city. It proved itself in an earlier time, a time it was commemorating yesterday, Patriots’ Day. And the video of people rushing in to help the injured speaks for itself, but it is bigger than even that.
Boston is not the biggest city in America; it is not the most politically powerful. But it has an inner determination and power that only the foolish ignore. Next year, at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, I confidently predict there will be more runners and more supporters than ever before.
The attackers, whoever they are must be incompetent.
They picked on the wrong city.”
~Jim Walsh, 90.9 WBUR
These were just a few of the sentiments that I saw within the past few days. I will say that there is a new-found sense of determination here that has united all Boston students together. In a sense we all felt attacked and knew that what we needed to do was to stay together and hug our loved ones. There is a spirit here that prevails through the tears and sorrow, and through the toil and strife. As my close friend Mitch wrote down later that night:
“Today is a day that should go down in drunken college history. Unfortunately, the events of the day will be remembered for different reasons. Nevertheless, days such as this force us to recall all those important memories with loved ones that truly matter.”
And so in troubled days like these I will walk on the road that Patriots walked upon into the cool spring air and let Boston save me.
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
~On the Road, Jack Kerouac
So it’s the last night before I bid a temporary farewell to this old and empty house back in Owings Mills, MD. I have been attempting to finish my reading of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road so that it can be returned back to the library in Maryland before I head back to Boston early in the morning. Once again I start to feel that pang of wanting to move and be dynamic. I just can’t stand wasting away in the same old houses and apartments without actively doing something with my life. I sometimes feel as if I am not using my skills to the fullest: during the school year I never take full advantage of my talents and end up wasting time with procrastination, and then during the breaks all I do is sleep, eat, and think about when things will start up again.
Everything around me is changing and moving beyond any control. When I leave for Boston tomorrow in a 10am Megabus, it will be the last time that I will head there before my graduation. It will be the last time that I say another goodbye to my old Maryland home and welcome the familiarity of my Boston home for the last time before everything changes and starts again anew.
I just feel stuck right now: stuck between the verges of new homes and new lives. I went back to my high school today to give a presentation about engineering in college to two classes of seniors who are taking an introductory engineering course. I couldn’t believe that I was only 4 years gone from their position and that they too would come to understand the glory of life after high school. I guess that I just also have to work on not holding on to things too much. I tend to remember a lot of things in the past, and as a result I tend to get stuck on how things were and how good they seemed to be back then. If I only I could have gone back to those moments with the wisdom and experience that I had now and did things differently. But then again I would never have gained that insight had I not first gone through those experiences with my naivete and innocence.
I started reading On the Road with feelings of joy and ecstasy as I read about the adventures and the Sal’s calling to once again fulfill that wanderlust to move into the unknown. I think that it is a very fitting book for me, because I think that I have always felt this urge to keep challenging myself to tread upon those lesser known paths and experiences. With that comes reckless abandonment, which may have seemed romantic and lofty at first, but then reveals itself to have no real purpose. My only worry is that I will soon find nothing in this world that can fill this aching desire. For Sal, it is to be upon that vast and foreign road filled with glory and mystery. For me, it is to discover that new secret or next part of my life that starts to make sense of this mess. Then again, we all have our ups and downs just like any old road, but this one doesn’t have an end in sight.
The nest stage for me is definitely the Peace Corps, and spending those 2+ years away in a developing country. What’s eating me away is that I made good headway on my application, only to have screwed up and pass the 30 day refreshing deadline. When I last checked on my application it was all deleted and I then had to start over again by scratch. It is a long and arduous process, but I know that in my heart of hearts that it is what I was called to do regardless of what anyone else has said to me. So for the time being, I need to finish my book, pack my bags, and head on to this last stage of my college career and see where that “huge vaulting world” takes me.