Terrified But Not Terrorized
Yes, by definition, we in East Watertown were terrified last week.
Many of us awoke in the middle of the night to gunfire and explosions; and we received calls and texts alerting us that the Boston Marathon Bomber was loose in our neighborhood. Some of us sobbed in the dark of our houses through the long unsettling night, startled by every creak and murmur, amazed at how slowly time could creep.
When, in the dawn mist, SWAT teams surrounded our houses, scouring under our porches and in our garages, searching attics and closets, most of us huddled together with our families in shock; others dared to open a shade to find our normally quiet street transformed into a surreal warzone: riflemen standing under the blossoming trees, armored trucks in the middle of the road, bloodhounds and German shepherds sniffing around the daffodils, the insistent drone of the same low flying helicopter.
We did not need TV. We were living it, cordoned-off from the rest of the world.
At one point, the search converged on a neighbor's house five doors down. The bomb squads were rushed in. Our neighbor -- who they thought was tied with explosives -- was SWATTED; she wound up in the hospital on account of her nerves. As they searched her house, we waited for explosions; sought shelter in basements. And we were not the least bit relieved when, around 6:00, Governor Duvall Patrick announced the end of the lockdown since officials were convinced the suspect was still hiding out in Watertown.
We began to hunker down for another long fearful night, although not before venturing out into the street -- in our sweatpants and pajamas, teeth unbrushed, hair mussy, pale and bleary eyed -- to swap stories with neighbors. My three year old son and his best friend danced in the shadow of the rifleman stationed at the top of our hill; and as they did, the gunfire erupted again, and we ran for cover.
Yes, we were terrified, but we were not terrorized. There is a huge difference.
We were horrified by the violence and the tragic loss of life; and we were frightened to realize that it could strike so close to home; that the same man capable of such evil might have crawled through our very own gardens in the middle of the night; frightened to think about these darkest parts of humanity.
But we were not coerced or intimidated or negatively influenced. What is seared into my memory from that day is not the fear, but rather the simple acts of courage and love that defined those hours. I will never forget the sunburned faces of the officers who had worked nearly nonstop since the tragic bombings, and who -- in such unprecedented circumstances -- had been on duty without food or water, or any planned backup, since the middle of the night. As a result, our house became the "police bathroom" on the block; our three-year-old son quickly learned to welcome officers into the house and show them "to the potty." Neighbors up and down the street left whatever food they had on front stoops -- cheese sticks and crackers, chips and popcorn, pasta and fruit, soda and water bottles -- for the famished officers; as a result, the feeling on the block- despite the dire circumstances -- was one of mutual gratitude.
Throughout the day, we received endless texts and emails from family and friends around the world, with the simplest of messages: Stay safe; We love you; give the kids kisses; be strong. When my infant son was startled awake by the flash bang grenades, I kissed his nose and sang him back to sleep. And when it was over, I left my husband with the sleeping children and joined the neighbors pouring out onto Mount Auburn Street with their frothing beer mugs and half-drunk wine glasses. The mood was so festive you might have thought the Red Sox had just won the pennant.
But -- forgive me Red Sox fanatics -- we had accomplished something much more precious. We did not let the Tsarnev brothers succeed in their efforts to terrorize. Rather, it is the many acts of kindness and courage -- small and large -- that erupted throughout the streets of Watertown and Boston, and the American spirit of resilience, that have come to define that week.