The one event which brought our country, and a whole community together, and one which has stayed with me throughout the entire year, was the tragic event at the Boston Marathon. It was seven days after the bombing that I couldn’t stand watching what was unfolding over the airwaves any longer. I had to get on a plane and help!
I love Boston. My deep affection for the city has developed over many years of shooting films there, and has left me with a group of great old friends. I’m not a doctor or a first responder, but felt that I needed to do what I could to help the wounded. I had previously had the honor of visiting the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. to bring comfort to our wounded soldiers there. This visit left me with an understanding of the power of human connection. If I could bring even the smallest smile to someone who was facing a difficult and challenging recovery, then that would be my contribution.
A lot of people told me, during my four day visit to Boston, how much it meant to them that I came, but I felt that I left Boston with much more than I was able to give – I left with a feeling of great strength, hope and ambition. Everyone I met had a genuine and stubborn urge to put things right, to reclaim their city and their marathon. I was surprised by how much laughter and good spirits I saw – everyone was linked by an emotion which, while difficult to put in words, was palatable.
I spent my first day at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where many of the survivors were learning to adjust to lives with new artificial limbs. I then went on to the site of the bombings themselves, to see the impact the attack had left on the surroundings – both physically and socially. Throughout my trip I made a point of dining at restaurants in the vicinity of the attack to bolster the area around Boylston Street, and to serve as a symbol of resilience and defiance.
The next two days went by in a blur as I spent many intense hours in both Boston Medical and Beth Israel Deaconess – the two main hospitals where for the first 12 hours more than 200 of those wounded in the bombings were taken. I think I must have shaken the hand of, and taken a picture with, every doctor, surgeon, nurse, medic, technician, administrator, specialist, X-ray personnel and EMS worker present that day, as well as with many of the survivors who were still in hospital eight or nine days after the incident.
My trip also included a visit to the police station responsible for covering the finish line of the marathon, and spent a good amount of time with the officers. The morning of every marathon since the 9/11 attacks, these officers’ captain had told them: “If they’re going to hit us, boys, they’re going to hit us at the finish line. So be ready.” And these officers were ready! Soon after we also drove out to the meet with the SWAT division which had been responsible for the chase and subsequent capture of the suspects.
One of the highlights of my trip was a remarkable morning spent with the major players of the Boston Athletic Association who organize the marathon, and walking with them to the makeshift memorial that had sprung up on Boylston Street. Because they had all been so focused on the logistics of getting around 3000 runners out of the city, they hadn’t even had time to start grieving.
As difficult and heartbreaking as this trip sometimes was, I was deeply touched by people’s resilience and empathy. One of the most remarkable things I saw was just before going into the Boston Medical Center. It was here that I met someone who still reminds me everyday of the humanity with which the city of Boston and its people responded to the devastating events of April 15th. As we were about to go into the hospital, the administrator who was guiding my group asked if I wanted to see a truck full of puppies before going in. I was intrigued, and it turned out that the North Shore Animal League, a well-known pet adoption agency from Long Island, had decided to drive a truck full of puppies to Boston so they could be brought into patients’ hospital rooms! They explained that having a puppy around when recuperating is a wonderful way of helping the healing process. A girl on the truck told me that the very adorable shepherd mix in front of me was called Cuddles. I soon found out why as this 9-week-old puppy grabbed me around the neck with both her paws and gave me the biggest, warmest hug she could muster. Needless to say we bonded immediately.
The very next day I adopted this puppy and promptly re-named her Boston! Now there is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of where I met her, what she represents and the reason for naming her in honor of a city I will always cherish.