We have decided to go to church.
That’s how this all starts. It is the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and we have decided to go to church to remember.
We are going into Copley Square, on Boylston Street, to Old South Church. The church that sits on the finish line of the Marathon. The place we were married just a few months before bombs clouded it in smoke and ripped apart it’s marathon banners.
There is rarely parking there, and especially not this week, so we park the car and take the Green Line. We ride past Fenway Park and the hospitals where the wounded were treated.
We come up the stairs by the library and cross in front of the freshly painted finish line. We enter the church, draped with blue and yellow scarves knitted by people around the country who wanted to send a little love to the athletes who will run next Monday.
We find seats in the balcony, the one up against the Boylston Street side. And we watch as the sanctuary fills with friends of ours, with strangers, with runners, with members of the local mosque, with the curious.
We pray, and we sing, and we listen. We listen to a Christian pastor pray for victims of a shooting at a Jewish Community Center. We listen to a Unitarian pray for the Catholic dead. We listen to an Imam plead that we not discriminate against gays and lesbians. We listen to a Jewish cantor lead us through “alleluias”.
Nancy Taylor, the senior pastor, tells us that the Christian life is like a marathon. She is right, I think to myself. This isn’t a sprint. This isn’t easy. This isn’t short.
The children’s choir sings, and the adult choir joins in, and eventually the service ends with us all joining together: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
And it is beautiful.
And I would like to linger in that moment for a while. But this is when we learn about what is happening on the other side of the sanctuary wall.
There’s a “situation” happening on Boylston Street. We are asked to leave the church via the back alley. And I wonder if there are protesters outside, or cameras filming or something innocuous.
And then I check my phone and there are messages from friends asking what is happening outside. There are people on Twitter talking about a”suspicious device”. And they tell those of us who are on the upper balcony that we need to get down now and we need to “get away from that wall”. And that’s when we notice the police officers behind us, evacuating people quickly.
People are calm. No one seems panicked. A child near me says he is scared, but overall we are quiet. We evacuate out in jeans and suits, in hijab and BAA jackets. I can’t say I am scared. I figure it is either a stray backpack left carelessly behind or a sick joke. But I can’t lie and say the hairs on the back of my neck don’t stand up a little.
We walk out into the back alley and to Dartmouth Street. The police officer tells us the Copley T is down. So we walk back to Newbury, past police cars barricading streets, and finally back to the unguarded part of Boylston. We walk to the next T stop, and past the firehouse and the memorials to the two fallen firefighters who served there.
It’s raining hard by now and the wind is gusting. We are soaked by the time we get to the next T where they tell us the whole Green Line is down now. So we walk back down Boylston, and we try to hail a cab.
We walk back past the firehouse, back past blue lights, back past TV cameras. Every cab has a fare. So we keep walking. Up now to Hereford to Newbury. I try to hail more cabs. I try to get a Chinese food delivery car to pull over by mistake. Heidi laughs at me.
And then the detonation.
We don’t know in that second that it was a controlled detonation. We don’t know it was a backpack with a rice cooker and confetti left by some misguided performance artist.
I think “some people live with this everyday…the bombs…the fear…the uncertainty”. That’s my first thought
My second is “check your phone”. A text is there from my Dad, watching it unfold in Virginia: “Fire in the hole…controlled detonation”.
We know now that it is safe. We walk up to Comm Ave. More cabs pass us. The rain beats harder. We stand there, one of us on each side of a corner, trying to get a taxi to stop. Finally one does.
Our driver asks where to. We say Newton Centre. He apologizes for not having much of a voice. We assure him it’s no problem.
And we drive. Down Comm Ave. Down Beacon. We trace parts of the Marathon in reverse. We are holding hands in the quiet. Daft Punk is playing on the radio and it all feels surreally normal.
Somewhere near Boston College I break the silence, saying I liked what the Imam had to say. Heidi agrees. I ask about his mosque and she tells me what she knows. The cab driver turns the music off. I realize he is listening. I wonder if he is assessing whether we are safe before he speaks.
“Can I ask you something,” he says, in his hoarse voice.
“Sure,” we say.
“Are you talking about Imam Webb?”
“You liked him?”
“Yes, we thought he was very good tonight.”
He takes out his phone, shows us a picture. “Him?!”
He grows excited. “He is my Imam!”
For the rest of the drive he tells us about himself. He has been in Boston for two years. He goes to the mosque for Friday prayers. He is from Dubai. He came because he had throat cancer and the hospital here knew how to treat it.
“Boston saved my life,” he tells us.
We tell him about us, and about the interfaith service. We trade stories. He tells us his name. We tell him we will pray for his health.
When we finally reach Newton we say “peace, my brother”. And we wish him well.
The pastor was right. The Christian life, it is a marathon. But sometimes it’s also a cab ride across Boston on a rainy night on a day when memory and hope are so intertwined.