OPINIONS

A Reflection on the Boston Marathon

One week ago, Boston’s NPR radio station ran a piece called “The ‘Beauty’ of the Marathon.” After the events on Monday, this title would surely be replaced with a phrase portraying chaos, casualties, terrorists and explosions. Surely it was a tragic day. But despite the horrors, there was beauty to be found. To quote wise words from the late Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Indeed, within seconds of the blasts, people were rushing to give aid. Fortunately, there were dozens of EMTs and police already on the scene. But photos and videos also show military veterans, doctors and other civilians rushing to aid the victims, whether that meant applying tourniquets, clearing fences to allow ambulances and paramedics to access the scene, or comforting the wounded.

One of these responders’ stories is particularly touching. Carlos Arredondo, an immigrant from Costa Rica, had already amassed quite the life story before Monday’s events. In 2004, his eldest son died in battle while serving our nation in Iraq. Shortly after being notified of his son’s death, Carlos doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire, after which he was rescued but not after suffering severe burns. After his yearlong recovery, he joined other families of deceased soldiers to advocate for peace, only to be beaten in 2007 by members of a right-wing group at an anti-war march. And just four years later, Carlos’ younger son, coping with depression stemming in part from his brother’s death, took his own life. Since then, Carlos has also been a promoter of improved suicide prevention policy.

Despite having countless reasons to despise this country, Carlos (now a citizen) passed out American flags for the first four hours of the marathon. And when the bombs went off, he rushed towards the scene and helped in whatever way he could. In the iconic photo where Jeff Bauman – in grave condition – is being carted away in a wheelchair with both legs severed, Carlos is by his side.

Carlos, with an intense look of determination on his face, is holding shut what appears to be an artery with his ungloved hands. Today, Jeff is alive and in stable condition; Arredondo, who also applied a tourniquet to Jeff’s other leg, almost certainly saved his life. While the three lives lost should not be forgotten, the fatality count would have been higher were it not for the bravery and resolve of Carlos and other first responders.

Following our survival instinct, many of us would have turned from the blast and ran. If this were not enough, we are taught to avoid danger- a tenet of basic first aid courses is to only approach the scene once it is determined to be safe (the Boston sidewalk was anything but safe at that moment). And yet, as Mr. Rogers’ mother told him, there will always be people running towards chaos, ready to help. Sometimes, these first responders are doing their job. But, like the principal at Sandy Hook who rushed from relative safety to defend her children, they could be people like you and me.

Some people reacted to the bombing in Boston with utter gloom: “F*** this world” was a common phrase posted on Facebook and Twitter. Although there is a time for grief and anger, if we constantly approach humanity with pessimism, we will surely not be lost to find countless other unexplainable, tragic events; a fact of life is death, and few among us are fortunate enough to die peacefully in old age. Indeed, with media outlets that push the gloomy stories front and center, it is easy to overlook moments of beauty. It is easy to forget that for every one perpetrator, there are countless other humans supporting and loving each other. For every one bomber in Boston on Monday, there were scores of people who rushed into danger to give aid, hundreds – including exhausted runners – who swiftly donated blood, thousands who attended candlelight vigils in memory of the victims, and millions who made sure to call their loved ones.

If we allow it, the world can be a beautiful place. Whereas some may see a wounded soldier, I saw a corridor in Midway Airport a few months ago erupt in standing ovation as he returned home. Whereas some may see a Stanford student with alcohol poisoning, I notice how there is almost always a friend, or even a stranger, comforting her. These moments are easy to forget, but they’re there. And while they do not bring those lost back to life – nothing will – they give the survivors, all of us, reason to not only endure, but also appreciate what we still have.

Email Adam your thoughts at adamj11@stanford.edu.

About Adam Johnson

Adam is a senior from Illinois. He is majoring in Biomechanical Engineering, although his intellectual interests span dozens of departments. This is his second year writing for the Daily (you may remember him from his work last year on the Editorial Board). Outside of writing, Adam enjoys acting, skiing, making music, and thrift-store shopping.
  • a perspective

    I agree with everything you write in this article. Most people /are/ good and help out in amazing ways. Two or so people planted bombs; hundreds or more responded bravely and compassionately in a scary and life-threatening situation. I’m sure there will be similar stories from Waco, TX. And I think there’s a general trend toward bravery in our society. We’ve seen a lot of violence growing up, and a lot of us have thought how we’d act proactively if we were ever in such a situation.

    The problem, the reason for pessimism — or, more precisely, despair — has nothing to do with these acts of violence. The problem is that we’re only good at dealing with momentary crises. We’re (collectively) terrible at dealing with large, slow, long-term problems. We look the other way when international companies let oil leak into the ground and water systems of oil-exporting nations year after year. We ask for yet another study before we make any decision on climate change and ocean acidification, and then quibble with that study to push any decision off even longer. What we do to animals for food and science is utterly twisted. We imprison alleged terrorists without charging them and leave them, forgotten, in cells for years. Our penal system swallows lives for profit.

    Bombs will never destroy us, but the slow and silent atrocities of civilization — death by the thousand paper cuts of bureaucracy and what it lets us hide and lie about — have and will. You write that “the world can be a beautiful place”. It is! The story of humanity would not rise to the level of tragedy if it were not for this beauty: if it were not for all the beauty we unmake, until there is nothing but our gray diversions.

  • Jennifer

    The question should be why do you hate America so much Adam? Could you show your bias more? You write “Despite having countless reasons to despise this country”.

    Why should Carlos despise America? NO ONE MADE him come to America. He could have stayed in Costa Rica. Last time I looked there is NO DRAFT so his son signed up willingly to join the military! You know you join the military you might fing die! And really what an idiot Carlos is for setting himself on fire! And NO ONE shot his son —his son KILLED himself!!!!!

    My favorite though was Carlos getting beaten by a right wing group at an anti-war protest. Last time I looked rt. wing groups are the last people who would ever show up at an anti-war protest and by the way where have all the anti-war people been since Obama who is as big a warmonger as Bush if not bigger has been elected?

    And how DARE you assume what any of us would doing if confronted with a situation like Boston!

    YOU ADAM are the biggest PESSIMIST!

    I will be SOOOOOOOOOOOOO thrilled when you and the rest of your Commie Marxist morose crappers exit this paper and university this spring—-GOOD RIDDANCE!

  • Sy

    Sounds like if it was up to you all humans should just never have even been on this planet. It was probably someone with the same opinions as you that planted the bombs!