A Year Later, But Never Too Late

Today is Marathon Monday in Boston, and as we all know well, last year’s event ended tragically short when two bombs went off at the finish line. As I looked through photos from that horrific day last year—injured survivors, frantic crowds, courageous helping hands, and sidewalks covered in bloody shrapnel—I began to cry. I felt the pain.

I remember the complete shock, confusion, and utter lack of belief I felt when they first announced a “loud boom,” which at that point was only speculated to be an explosion, had happened. On the T, uniformed soldiers were everywhere. Instead of making me feel safe, their presence made me cringe in fear.  I remember being on lockdown a few days following the marathon. That morning sounded different than the rest.  The silence was striking. A once bustling city street was deserted. I remember the birds’ songs had never been so loud or clear in my corner of the city. The beauty of that day was enchanting, unreal. It was tainted only by the distant sound of sirens and chopper blades circling above as they looked for a young man. In the silence and the fear, I remember my heart went out to him, his brother, and his family. My heart had been with the runners, spectators, the injured, and their families all week and continued to ache with them.

I remember all these feelings, and yet, somehow I had never given myself permission to truly feel them. I had locked them away and labeled them “unfit” for me. I tried my best to go about business as usual. I told myself that I was safe. I wasn’t injured nor was anyone I knew. I closed off my feelings, allowing myself only to pray on behalf of others. My world had been shaken but not like others’ worlds had been that day.  My worry in anxiously awaiting an update on the safety of my 7 roommates (6 of whom had went to watch the marathon that morning) was relieved when I heard from them and they all returned home safely. Who was I to cry? Who was I to feel weak? After being glued to media the first six or so hours following the bombing, I turned off the TV, I shut down the internet, and I didn’t turn them back on in my effort not to get “caught up in the orchestrated drama of a terrorist threat,” or to feel what I was feeling. 

I didn’t realize that it would be my first time seeing many of the images when I came back to the media this year. In the moment, sitting in front of my computer screen silently wiping tears from my face, it dawned on me that I had never fully processed this tragedy. I had never considered fully my relationship to the traumatic events.

As we recognize and witness the presence of tragedies and traumas, large and small, in our lives, how do we allow ourselves to feel their weight? How can we give ourselves permission to simply be with the pain without giving into the fear that we will be crippled by that pain?

“Uncomfortable questions, thoughts, and feelings are normal parts of the human experience. They form the core spiritual questions of most faith and ethical traditions.

Sometimes they arise on their own, and sometimes they emerge from critical events in our lives. These spiritual questions, in certain cases, may also be associated with the kinds of psychological or emotional issues that can result from the stress, grief, trauma, and/or secondary trauma you have experienced.

Either way, the opportunity to talk through, process, and discern the spiritual impact of experiences on your life is very important for your present and long-term resilience and well-being.”

- from Still Harbor's "Spiritual Accompaniment during Difficult Times"

Ruth includes a prayer of love amidst countless words of inspiration, hope, and peace for the city. 

Ruth includes a prayer of love amidst countless words of inspiration, hope, and peace for the city. 

Today, my tears taught me the importance of allowing myself room to walk through, talk through, and process the impact of various life experiences. I’ve come to realize that perhaps this is the very point of honoring anniversaries of tragic events. The time to remember provides intentional space for us all to gather together in love and compassion with full permission to remember, feel, mourn, and begin to accept our experiences as valid. My body reminded me today that now is my time to mourn. I’m going to take it. Today, I will cry. I will feel my pain. And I will celebrate a city that came together so instantly, out of instinct, to support one another.

 As human beings we are drawn towards one another. We were not created to be alone. So, as we once again join together to watch the perseverance of our marathon runners, I pray that we will feel the increased strength of the bonds of a community that has suffered and risen together.  In doing so, I will strive to fully embrace my feelings, whatever they may be, allowing each one to pass over or sit for a while as I feel held in the embrace of a loving and compassionate community.

Ruth Nkemontoh is the Community Engagement Coordinator for Still Harbor.  She joins Still Harbor as part of Life Together, a fellowship program of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.  With a Bachelors in Communication and Black Studies, Ruth believes that the core of human interactions revolve around understanding God, ourselves, and others.  A lover of cultures and traveling, she has done outreach and communications stints in her home town, Portland, Oregon, as well as in both Ukraine and India.