by Maureen Quinlan
I am originally from Colorado and go to school in Boston. I am studying abroad in Ireland. I am a girl of many places, places that have become a part of my life and soul, places that have become close to my heart, places that whether I like it or not, changed me.
When I first moved to Boston in 2010, I was jolted by the differences between this historical and urban city and the land of my home. But in three years, I would come to love its cobblestone streets, old buildings, eclectic neighborhoods and most of all its resilient people. I never thought I would fall in love with Boston as much as I did.
When I was thinking about things to blog about this week, I never thought tragedy would be one of them. But the disembodying experience I felt in the wake of news about my second home, my many friends that are still there, and the struggle I felt to be in the moment in Dublin was one of guilt and reflection.
Marathon Monday in Boston is a special day. To me it always marks the beginning of warmer, lighter, longer days, a rising summer and smiles of pride. It is great fun in the midst of a celebratory atmosphere. I was a little sad that I would be missing the festivities in Boston this year, but I had to keep reminding myself that I am in Ireland. It just so happened that student race day, a day when college students in Dublin head to the horse races in their finest attire, fell on Marathon Monday. I was excited to bare my legs for the first time in months, wear a classy dress, sit in the sun, have a few drinks with friends and watch the races. It felt almost like being in Boston. The circumstances were different, but the atmosphere the same.
It was a time to have fun and embrace one of the best excuses to study abroad. How strange it was then to receive the news of what had happened in the place I had wanted to be that day. A friend received a news alert on her phone on our way home from the races, and we didn’t think much of it. But something hit the pit of my stomach that told me it wasn’t “no big deal.”
Now my second home, the one I chose to love and grow in, was experiencing something. It is not something you would wish onto any city, person or group of people, no matter how strong and resilient they are. Upon opening my homepage, Boston.com, and my Facebook, I was flooded with the feeling of chaos Boston must have been feeling in those moments. Even though I was sitting at another university nearly 3,000 miles away from my home university, I felt as if I was in the disaster zone. We can thank modern technology and social media for that. I read status after status that my friends were safe. I was relieved, but that didn’t make it better. I was also chatting with my local friends about our impending plans for a night out. I was living two very different lives that didn’t feel like they meshed. My Boston identity was grieving and struggling to understand the events that had just occurred. My Ireland identity was ready for more exploration.
As I tried to shake off the feeling of not being where I needed to be, I was surrounded by the news of the day. Every club and pub we entered had TV screens showing endless loop footage of the finish line, conflicting statements about explosions and a rising injured toll. It was impossible to escape, but that’s not just because of the questions from Irish people who knew we were American and the visual reminders. It was and is because Boston is and will forever be in my heart. A place and its people don’t leave you that easily.
So much of me wanted to be in Boston that day, and the days following. My best friend who is still living there described the experience in the streets after the Boston Police caught the suspect as one of the best moments of her life. She said that she has never loved Boston more. That is something I will never be able to share with the people who were there that day. As much as I wanted to be and as much as it affected me, it will never change the fact that I was in Dublin when it happened. As much as I felt it in spirit will never change the fact that I did not feel those blasts, experience the fear and mayhem, or celebrate in the streets. I will never know what it was like to feel the eeriness of a locked-down ghost town. I will never know what it was like to take a collective sigh of relief.
I will know what it was like to stay up until 2 a.m. watching the news on my computer. I will know what it was like to read tweet after tweet updating me from across an ocean. I will know what it was like to shed tears at reading the news. I will always remember the confliction I felt at being in my third home when my second home was reeling from a surreal week of events.
I plan to return to Boston and expect that it will be its same self. The memories will fade, the massive headlines will shrink, the people will try to eradicate the fear they are now feeling, but Boston will always be the place that I grew to love.
And as I go forward in this study abroad experience, I will remember that a place is not just a point on a map with intersecting streets, it is a place that can define you, it can link you to so much in life, it can place itself in your heart and never leave.