In some ways, it's hard to believe it has already been a year since a series of bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. In other ways, specifically for those most closely affected by the impact of the explosions on Boylston Street in Boston, Mass., that occurred just before three in the afternoon on April 15, 2013, the year could not have felt longer.
The truth is, when my editor came to me and asked me to write about the one-year anniversary of such a terrible time in our country's recent history, I didn't want to write about it any more than I assume many of you wanted to read about it.
Commemorations are never easy, and while time offers many of us perspective on things we find impossible for our minds to properly process at the time, this one—and others like this that lead back to the events that took place on an early autumn morning in 2001— still seems particularly painful to remember.
It feels hard to believe it has been a year since two 20-something brothers decided to attack a major United States city, putting our entire country on notice that no one is ever truly safe, especially at a major public event. That feeling is as terrifying today as it was a year ago.
The Boston Marathon was never about sports, and yet I remember the line between news and sports blending into an odd gradient of information and emotion and confusion in the wake of bombs going off.
What happened, why did it happen and, frankly, is this something we jump in and cover as a sports story? Or is it a straight news story that we should stay clear of until more information comes out? And oh my God, why am I thinking about what kind of story this is? And who in the hell cares if the Red Sox won or if the Bruins are playing tonight when people are hurt and dying and there are terrorists on the loose?
That's what I remember thinking one year ago. That's what a lot of us were thinking.
There is a part of us that is built to compartmentalize tragedy and fear, and one way to abate the feelings of helplessness and sorrow is to become an information gatherer, a news procurer, because information and news know no emotion. There is no fear in facts, so the hours after the bombs went off turned more into a mad dash to find out what happened than a time to lament that it did.
I remember seeing Twitter flood with information and images of the first explosion near the finish of the marathon for what seemed like hours before the television news coverage even had anything on the air to report.
I recall being both amazed and horrified at how social media could scour photographs and video surveillance footage in the area to help find the bombers, even if the initial identifications were horribly misinformed.
I remember Twitter and Reddit and, hell, even cable news stations becoming an incredibly perilous place to find information about what was actually going on with regard to who the bombers were and whether they were in custody.
I remember this being about anything but sports.
Mike Napoli's walk-off double on Patriot's Day became nothing but a footnote on the way we remember what happened that day in Boston. From the MLB.com game story by Ian Browne, posted at 6:31 p.m. amid an incredible flux of news and information coming out of Boston:
Roughly an hour after the game, the Red Sox's walk-off win quickly became an afterthought as the city experienced a tragic explosion at the Boston Marathon. At least two explosions went off at the finish line, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries to dozens of people.
As the Red Sox boarded the bus to the airport for their trip to Cleveland, sirens could be heard outside of Fenway Park. From the press box, a helicopter could be seen circling near the top of the Prudential building. The finish line of the marathon is within a mile of Fenway Park.
I didn't remember that game at all. I remember the game being played, but I had to look up what actually happened. I remember the Bruins postponing their game against the Senators that was to take place later that night, and the Celtics following that by canceling their game the following day.
The bombings may have taken place at a running race, but I remember that day being about everything but sports.
I remember watching the manhunt steepen after a shooting near the campus of MIT, and I remember friends and colleagues locked inside their homes by suburban Boston police after a series of street-level incidents heightened the search for the suspected bombers, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
I remember Uncle Ruslan. No one will ever forget Uncle Ruslan.
I remember passionate debates about people's rights as citizens, and a redefinition of the very notion of domestic terrorism. I vividly recall my wife, who has a doctorate degree in criminology, schooling me—and in turn my tiny corner of the Internet—on Miranda rights.
I remember concerning myself with things one might never expect when signing up to write about sports.
I remember a lot of compartmentalizing.
As the days moved on and the misinformation and conjecture subsided after the elder Tsarnaev was gunned down before the younger was finally captured by an incredibly dedicated team of law-enforcement agents, I remember life getting back to some semblance of normalcy again.
(The Red Sox actually played three games in Cleveland in the days between when the bomb went off and when their next home context on April 19 was ultimately postponed as the manhunt finally came to an end.)
I remember trying to do then what I am trying to do now in discussing a story that had very little to do with sports other than the setting being tangentially connected to our subset of the industry—distance runners are some of the best athletes in the world, but the results of a local marathon is rarely a national story—to put the events into some context in our world, to our readers.
I remember scouring all of the news wires for images that best told the story, and reading all of the reports from local writers and photographers in Boston who were far braver than I imagine I would be in the same scenario.
I remember a lot of us doing then what a lot of us are doing today in trying to come up with a sensible, and sensitive, way to cover the story while serving the audience without coming off as exploitative.
I remember the iconic image of four police officers charging into action while an older runner lay on the pavement before them. I recall Sports Illustrated being lauded by some for its powerful magazine cover while being chided by others—including me—for shoehorning in their enormous logo behind three of the officers, deciding to cut out the head of the fourth, while leaving in his legs and feet in the shot, because he must not have fit with their design.
I remember having the debate some of us have when any tragedy strikes—I vividly remember having this debate the day that giant tsunami hit Japan in 2011—of whether sports are an important part of life or merely a distraction from it, and whether either of those points makes getting back to sports more or less important at times of great tragedy.
I remember "Boston Strong" becoming more than just a catchphrase and a marketing tool for the Red Sox in the wake of the bombings. I remember seeing sports play an important part in helping to heal a city.
I remember Boston's run to the World Series and seeing the giant "B Strong" logo emblazon the field at the end of an amazing year as a constant reminder of what happened near its beginning.
I remember seeing the connection the players, coaches and front office had with the community, the victims and their families, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much sports can matter, even when life becomes the distraction.
One year ago today was anything about sports. But sometimes sports can help us escape the notion that we live in a time when days like April 15, 2013, can change in an instant. Sometimes sports can help us heal when they do. Today is not about sports. Unless we need it to be.