It was 2:03 when my stepfather, Walt, ran over the 30k mark at the Boston Marathon. Looking at his pace, which was sent to me through an automated text message, I figured I had at least an hour to get to my regular cheering spot near the corner of the Mass & Comm avenues. I waited a few more minutes against the barricade, watching the runners speeding by, and the crowd cheering them on. In front of me a couple in their early 30’s shouted and screamed, individualizing each call. “Yes, Canada, yes! You’ve got this Sheri! Only two miles to the drinks, Mark!” I chuckled thinking to myself; if you like to clap for seven hours, attend a marathon. (I admit that some brainwashing has been done at Pass It Along, where we are trained to see the good in the world.) I picked up Walt’s post-run chocolate milk and got a front row spot to cheer on the runners, and eventually, my stepfather.
Suddenly, something halted the runners. They stopped as if an invisible wall had gone up, holding them back. I leaned over the barricade, trying to see forward to what was happening. Next to me, a man answered the question for the crowd and the quickly growing number of runners. “There were two explosions at the finish line—bombs or something,” he said.
I realize now that it is one of those moments where I will always know exactly where I was and what I was doing—my first reaction was to look at my phone—3:02. There was no way Walt could have gone by. There was no way. He didn’t have his phone with him, but mathematically, unless he had been injured running, he would not have been there.
I looked back up to the runners; word had been spreading back on the terror at the finish line and many runners sat or paced in small circles, shocked at the sudden stop only half a mile from the finish of the race. Then it dawned on me. If the other runners were anything like Walt, they would not have their phones. “Does anyone need to make a call?” I held my cell over the fences, offering it out to the runners. The crowd behind me also began offering their phones to the anxious runners. The calls would not go through, but it didn’t matter. “You can text them,” I offered. “Anything to let them know that you are safe.”
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LGHtc_D328] In this interview, the famous Mr. Rogers says, “Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.”
I did not have to look hard that day for the helpers. As half a dozen people borrowed my phone, I watched the crowd around me. Some runners sat shaking on the ground, freezing without the Heatsheets that were usually wrapped around them at the finish line. Spectators pulled off their coats and sweatshirts without hesitation, offering it to those before them. When the first call for water came out, a dozen offers went in.
My phone buzzed; Walt had just crossed the 40k mark. He was less than two miles away now. I was able to send a message to a friend, asking them to let my mom know that we were okay, and left the site. The barricades had been broken apart, allowing runners out and spectators in, so I walked on the trail, not wanting to miss him. People had run into their nearby homes only to return moments later with pitchers and bowls full of water, offering it to the incoming runners. A ten-year-old boy wandered through the crowd with a bag of clementines, handing them out to those in need.
I was able to find Walt, who said he had heard a few miles back what had happened. But I could see that as fast as the word had spread, so had the kindness. As time went on, we all heard of the runners who kept running straight on to donation sites to donate blood, those that pulled off favorite shirts and belts to make tourniquets, and so many other small and large miracles. Those who watched what had happened from the outside saw the fear, but from the inside, we saw so much kindness.
As I wrote this, I received a text from one of the runners who borrowed my phone, “So to the complete stranger who helped me by letting me use her phone yesterday to get ahold of my husband… a great big thank you for your kindness… it’s strangers like you that make me have faith that people are at heart kind and caring individuals… what a blessing to have you nearby… thank you again for your help, as minimal as you think it was… it gave my husband peace of mind to know I was ok… take care.”
The helpers were everywhere. And in a world where we do see so much pain, keep an eye out for the helpers…and if you can’t see any, become one yourself. It was minimal to simply let someone use my phone, but clearly, to that woman’s family, it made a large difference. You do not have to wait for a crisis to become a helper. Look around you now, and see what you can do. As Mr. Rogers said, “If you look for the helpers, you’ll know there is hope.”
There is always hope.
–Written by Kailey Denzer-Weiler, AmeriCorps Program Associate