Jeff Bauman & The Meaning Of Boston Strong
Like many people who grew up in Boston or the Boston suburbs, I have a deep connection to the marathon. As I kid I used to go pass out water cups, cheer on runners, celebrate with my neighbor who ran every year, and also be grateful that Marathon Day is a day off school right when Spring is in full force. Even today I have family members, high school classmates, and friends running in the event. When I heard about the bombings last year I was all the way in Los Angeles where I live now and I was terrified. The process of seeking information about my friends who both ran and spectated was particularly intense. A couple days later on the night of the shootout with the bombers, I was glued to every form of social media, the Boston Police scanner, the news, and my email as one of my friends lives on the street in Watertown where the shootout took place and was live emailing the whole thing.
Once the lock-down was lifted the city got a clearer picture of what had happened and who the victims were. One of the victims who became a face of the attack was Jeff Bauman who lost both of his legs on that fateful day. Jeff, who also played a key part in identifying one of the terrorists, just released a memoir called Stronger. He’s widely considered a hero in Boston. He is also a lot like me. We probably both spent part of our weekend watching the Bruins take on the Detroit Red Wings in round one of the playoffs. We share similar habits like blowing off steam with video games and enjoying a hearty round of beers with our buddies. And finally we’re both 28 years old, recently engaged, and grappling with the task of becoming an adult, although his struggle is far different than mine.
In the book Bauman goes into great detail about that struggle. He really opens up about his guilt about the attack, his continuing journey to walk again, and dealing with for better or worse becoming a living personification of the now iconic phrase “Boston Strong.” That phrase seems to be everywhere now, but when you learn about the everyday struggles both mental and physical that Bauman and others who were impacted by the tragedy go through, you get a sense of what it truly means. Bauman’s accounts of the emotional weight of the tragedy and how it weighs on him, his fiancee Erin, and his family are more raw and intense than any of the recounts of the bombing or the police shootout in Watertown with the suspects.
My favorite parts of the book are where Bauman opens up about his feelings for the Tsarnaev brothers who committed the terrible acts. He makes it clear that he doesn’t have “vengeance in his heart” for the bombers, which says a lot about Bauman’s character considering what the bombers did. That ,to me, is the ultimate message of the book and “Boston Strong.” The message is not to be strong in the face of our enemies. It’s to be strong for each other. To run towards the chaos and people in need of help not away from them. To treat survivors like people not like super-heroes or icons. And as Jeff says so well, know that we are stronger when we have “people to love” and make sure they know it.