When I got news of the bomb, I was at mile 23, walking towards the finish line. I was in my first year of journalism school at Boston University and we’d been assigned to cover one of the city’s largest sporting events: the Boston Marathon. A friend who was working closer to the finish line heard the explosions and called to make sure I wasn’t there.
“A bomb,” she shouted. “There was a bomb.”
Shocked, I hung up. Then my phone buzzed again: Another journalist friend, this one covering the Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
“Did you hear?” he yelled. I could sense the excitement in his voice. Then he told me that he was going to run toward the bomb, to try to get some pictures. I hung up the phone again.
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I wish I could tell you what it was like to throw away my red cup full of lukewarm mimosa and start running toward the finish line. I wish I could tell you about how I interviewed people at the scene, how I took pictures of the blown out windows in businesses on the streets I’d walked a thousand times before. But that’s not what this essay is about.
Because I didn’t walk toward the bomb. I didn’t pull out my notebook or my phone or my recorder. Instead, I walked away. And eight years later, I’m doing the same thing.
Several months before the bombing, a journalism professor told us that we’d know what kind of journalist we were meant to be when “shit hit the fan.” Either we’d run toward it, or we’d run away, and then we’d know. I thought about this advice constantly in the wake of the bombing, as I retreated to my couch and ignored the journalistic duty I felt creeping up the back of my neck. Unfortunately, he was right: I knew, and I didn’t like what I was seeing.
I stewed about my reaction but at the time, it didn’t feel safe to share my frustrations with anyone. I despised watching my friends use the bombing to their career advantage. I felt jealous of their certainty, of their willingness to walk into a room where they didn’t belong and ask questions that were uncomfortable. And truthfully, I found their behavior to be morally reprehensible, against every code I’d ever been taught to live by (which mostly included: be quiet, be polite, and…