The very explosions that brought horrific tragedy to Monday’s Boston Marathon also brought out a powerful response of human strength and compassion that swept well beyond Boston.
First, there was the rush to aid those injured or in shock. Then there was a digital outpouring of support: offered hotel rooms, reaching out to check on the safety of family members and friends, and tweets of solidarity.
An upwelling of caring and comfort after the attack was symbolized by practical actions, from prayers and vigils to efforts to raise money for the family of Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy who died in the bombing.
It was also symbolized by simply resolving to run, walk, or live on.
“For anyone who did not get to finish, For anyone who was injured, and for anyone who lost their life ... we will walk,” said a group of Boston College students, who mobilized online.
Similar voices arose from across the nation.
“If you’re a runner, the next 26.2 [miles] aren’t about race prep, monthly mileage or self. It’s about our brothers and sisters, the ones we don’t know but share a bond with,” blogged John Mulholland, a pastor of family ministries from Naperville, Ill. “Run it in 1 day, 1 week or 1 month. Just run.”
His blog site on Tuesday afternoon said some 4,000 people are committed to the “#RunforBoston” idea.
“The American people refuse to be terrorized,” President Obama said in a statement televised Tuesday morning. “What the world saw yesterday in the aftermath of the explosions were stories of heroism and kindness, and generosity and love.”
He described people who ran toward the smoke, some tearing their own clothing to make tourniquets, and people who opened their homes to attack victims. “So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil – that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.”
Those who ran toward the destruction included Carlos Arredondo.
He was at the finish line, according to news accounts, to support a group running for fallen US veterans. (One of those killed in the Iraq war was Mr. Arredondo’s own son.)
When the explosion happened, Arredondo told interviewers, he felt impelled to run to the aid of the injured, staying with one man even as other emergency personnel arrived and wheeled him away for treatment.
Another who rushed in to help was Vivek Shah, a local medical doctor who had finished running the race.
“I thought I would be one of the first people there [to help], because I was 25 yards away [from the explosion]," he told CNN Tuesday morning. Instead, the area was swarming with helpers by the time he started pitching in. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
It's a theme that many are echoing in the wake of the attack.
"That's what Americans do in times of crisis," Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley told "Good Morning America" on Tuesday. "We come together and we help one another. Moments like these, terrible as they are, don't show our weakness, they show our strength."
Within hours of the attack, a prayer gathering had been organized in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Mass.
As world leaders denounced the attack and offered condolences, Pope Francis said he prayed that all Bostonians “will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good,” Voice of America reported Tuesday.
Thousands of people in Boston offered to open their homes to any runners without a place to stay. They added their names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and short messages to a Google spreadsheet, letting people know what they had to offer.
A woman staying at a hotel for work offered to share her colleague’s room to make hers available. “It's not super fancy, but there's a clean king-sized bed and a hot shower,” she wrote. “Happy to help anyone who needs a place to stay for the night.”
Various funds sprouted up to support victims and their families – including the family of 8-year-old Martin.
Beyond Boston, a group called “The Illuminator” projected a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. on the Brooklyn Academy of Music Monday night: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”
They also projected “New York [heart] Boston” – not the typical feeling expressed between two cities that are such arch rivals in sports. But genuine. It’s the same as the "we are all New Yorkers now" bond that prevailed after the 9/11 attacks, even among Red Sox fans.
The Chicago Tribune devoted its Tuesday sports section cover to that idea.
“As much as it is anathema for a Chicago fan to root for any other town – especially Beantown and all of its championship rings – here we are,” said the text that accompanied banner headlines: “We are Chicago Red Sox. We are Chicago Celtics. We are Chicago Bruins. We are Chicago Patriots. We are Chicago Revolution.”
That spirit of larger purpose was evident in Boston’s own sports scene Tuesday.
“Wearing a Boston uniform has new meaning for me today. Honored and proud to represent a city of heroes!” Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino tweeted.
And the runners who participated in the marathon saw the human spirit rise in ways they won’t soon forget.
Jonathan Hill, who was half a mile away when the bomb exploded, says he was proud to running for the Red Cross charity team because the Red Cross volunteers “were the people who ran toward the blast to help victims and to the hospital to donate blood,” he says.
His wife Paulina, who is 8-1/2 months pregnant, was in the grandstand by the finish line, across the street from where the first bomb exploded. She joined the crowds of people being directed away from the scene.
“I was moved by the outpouring of concern that people showed toward each other on the street,” she says.
Liz Van Hoven of Amesbury, Mass., was between mile 20 and 21, on “Heartbreak Hill” as it’s known, when the runners were stopped. A church near Boston College opened its doors to the runners, and students handed out water and Gatorade, pasta and rolls, and cords to recharge cellphones.
Both Ms. Van Hoven and her friend, Bonnie Carr-Bowers, ran the marathon to raise money for charity. Ms. Carr-Bowers, who lives in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, was about half a mile from the finish line, passing under the Massachusetts Avenue overpass, when the runners were stopped.
As the scene turned to chaos, with people running away from the direction of the finish line and cop cars and ambulances going toward it, one cop told the runners that he couldn’t let them through. She stood in the street, freezing and not knowing where to go.
“A boy came up to me and gave me his sweatshirt,” she says.
If given the chance, both women say they would run the Boston Marathon again.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Van Hoven says.