This week is quite an eventful one for Our Marathon. From this Wednesday, April 16th to Saturday, April 19th, the team will be at the Boston Public Library from 12-4pm to hear your stories from the Boston Marathon bombings last year and how they have affected you. Our event will be set up alongside the incredible Dear Boston exhibit put on by the Boston City Archives.
Also, some representatives from Our Marathon will be at the Newton Free Library April 17th from 3:00-5:30pm where you can share your story as well. We hope to see you there!
Our second reflection is from own very own Joanne Decaro Afornalli. She is an undergrad here at Northeastern pursuing her Bachelors in English. She has a background in photography and education, some of her work having been published in The Huffington Post, BizBash, Entertainment Weekly, among others. Below is Joanne’s reflection on working with Our Marathon:
My name is Joanne DeCaro Afornalli. I am the community outreach lead on the Our Marathon project and I’m an undergrad English major at Northeastern. I joined the team last fall and have worked on various aspects of the project such as: event planning, promotion and design, oral history interviews, assistance in sponsor and affiliate recruitment, media digitization, and data collection and entry. I actually sat down last semester and wrote out my reflections from working with Our Marathon for one of my English classes. At the time I had just finished tagging our Boston Globe stories so that was the focus of my reflection. Currently I am in the process of wrapping up our photo contest and planning for the gallery opening. My reflections on the project might be a little different now but I still feel the insight I gained last semester could be of some use. Here it goes:
The process of tagging and cleaning up the meta-data of stories submitted to the Boston Globe required that I sat down and read through all 289 stories that were submitted by the public in the wake of the bombing. Most are firsthand accounts from spectators, runners and witnesses, many of whom were on Boylston Street in the midst of the blasts. Going through these stories was absolutely heart wrenching to say the least. Stories that spoke of parents horrified as they were separated from their children in the confusion, the panic and dread of every family member near the finish line who was waiting for their runner, and the actual firsthand accounts of missing limbs on the street and the injured. I was reading these stories in a graduate student office that is shared with two to three co-workers. At times when I was on the verge of tears there was the light-hearted office banter all around me, so the experience was rather disconcerting. Sometimes I just needed to take a breather in the bathroom and calm my nerves before I could read more.
Although reading through the first-hand accounts could be emotionally draining, the stories themselves are these brilliant little portals into the reality of that day. They capture the essence of the tragedy in a way no news report or TV special can come close to matching. The first person perspective of people who you can relate to, who have the fears, courage and doubts that you would imagine yourself to have in that situation – that is a compelling and engaging connection to that day. Not everyone in these stories was a hero, although some clearly were. Most grabbed their child or spouse and ran whichever direction made the most sense in the moment. There was no good decision; no one knew where the next bomb would explode or how many there would be. In general, people didn’t so much fear for themselves as for their loved ones with them or running. That, along with some of the remarkable tales of aid and selflessness was inspiring.
I was living in Los Angeles at the time of the marathon bombing. I saw it on the news at my boyfriend’s parent’s house. Of course, everyone was shocked by the coverage and felt compassion for the victims but it was too far-removed from life in California to have a strong impact on our consciousness. It was in the news for about a week and then disappeared, replaced by other stories of tragedies around the globe. It sounds callous but out of everything in the news at that time – the daily death tolls in Syria, the new bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq – it seemed it some ways like a minor tragedy on the global stage. Immersing myself in the horror of that day was a needed reminder that violence, no matter the size and shape of it, deserves to be addressed and examined. Victims should not be overlooked because of the rapid-fire pace of modern news media. Within those many stories are tales that address the core of humanity in ways novelists struggle to construct. For those that were in the crowd that day in April, it was that singular moment to see how you would react in the face of unthinkable fear and terror. Surprisingly or not surprisingly, many people recounted witnessing or participating in lifting the fallen, grabbing children, aiding the injured and other feats of altruism in a moment one might expect the worse kind of stampeding selfishness from people. Many stories ended with a process of people trying to make sense of what they witnessed, whether it was a numbed horror or the inspirited declaration of “Boston Strong.” The confusion, guilt and long dull pain that trailed people home from the marathon is something I had never really stopped to contemplate before.
While collecting stories from people, our team keeps emphasizing that no story is too small– every account adds to the greater understanding of that day. Going through the Boston Globe stories that couldn’t have been truer. Relating to the intimate story of a young mother who ran under the belchers with her daughter after the first bombing and then reading another story and then another like it – stories you don’t hear on the news – all of it drove home the reality of that tragedy. The fear, pain and courage captured in the first-person tales all became real to me in a way the impersonal nature of media reportage cannot achieve. One of my favorite literary quotes is “the universe is made of stories, not of atoms” by Muriel Rukeyser. In similar line of thought, I think the most direct way to connect to a tragedy is through stories and not facts and figures. Without working on this project and submersing myself in these stories, the Boston marathon bombing probably would have just remained a distant fact or figure.
Come share your story with Our Marathon at the Pollard Memorial Library in Lowell! We’ll be there from 4:30-8:30pm tonight. The team is looking forward to a great turnout… we hope to see you there!