Boston's healing doesn't come easy

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BOSTON -- The milestones are absolute, but the emotions are not.

It has been a year since our city came under siege on our treasured Patriots Day, during our marathon, a joyous confluence of elite international athletes and spirited amateur runners, beloved for its quirkiness and its homespun charm.

It was all blown to pieces before our horrified eyes, an act of unspeakable violence that was inexplicable, unprovoked.

Since that day last April, we have attempted to reclaim the tattered remains of our innocence and contemplate how to make this city whole again.

There is no foolproof manual for closure. As Liz Walker, pastor at the Roxbury Presbyterian Church so eloquently explained Tuesday, "Grief is that uneasy perch where the heart is forced to rest."

On Tuesday, the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, the city held a remembrance ceremony mourning those who were killed, honoring those who were wounded, and celebrating those who selflessly assisted the victims. First responders, police officers and firefighters were introduced in unison to thunderous, grateful applause.

Many survivors attended the moving event, each with their own narrative and their own arc of healing.

For Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dancer who lost part of her leg in the blast, the mere mention of suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev is untenable. She walked off the set of "Meet the Press" when NBC failed to respect her wishes not to query her on the men who allegedly planted the bombs.

Haslet-Davis explained Tuesday that her husband, Adam Davis, came home unscathed after fighting for his country in Afghanistan. The shrapnel embedded in his leg came from a booby-trapped backpack strategically placed along the marathon route.

How do we make sense of this? We can't. The victims of the bombings were not known to their alleged attackers. They were random bystanders whose lives were forever changed because of chance.

As Haslet-Davis pointed out, "Our survivor community is not something any of us chose to be a part of, yet that's what we are -- a community."

That community has learned to embrace the smallest of steps toward normalcy -- a trip to the restroom without using the handicapped-accessible stall, navigating cobblestones without tripping, enduring the crackle of fireworks without wincing. Many survivors have revisited the scene of the crime on multiple occasions, boldly and defiantly diluting the shock and horror of a day they will never forget.

Others have stayed away, still hurting, still healing, unwilling or unable to confront a moment that haunts them in ways they never could have imagined.

We marvel at the gentle grace and dignity of those who have learned to navigate their prostheses, who withstand the relentless ringing from their damaged eardrums, who ward off the nightmares with counseling and support groups and fundraising goals to keep them distracted.

They endure, and we celebrate their resolve. We offer our hand and pray they will grasp it.

"There are no strangers here," Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick noted.

Some spectators came away unscathed physically from the bombings, but not without emotional scars. They wonder why it was their friend who lost her leg and not them. They don't understand why their brother was so badly burned when they were spared.

Daniel Franklin braved the daunting winds and intermittent lashes of rain to witness the flag raising at the marathon finish line that was part of Tuesday's ceremonies. Franklin was on Boylston Street last year and was unharmed when the bombs went off. His instincts told him to hop the barrier along the sidewalk and run from chaos to safety.

Those actions haunt him now, he says.

"I wish I had stopped to help someone," Franklin said. "I wish I did more."

He is not alone. A woman receiving treatment for dehydration in the medical tent wonders if she should have stuck around to help instead of evacuating the tent as requested.

Marty Walsh, our new mayor, spent his 100th day in office at the ceremony recounting a picture he unearthed recently from a community outing in Dorchester. The picture depicted him with his arm draped around a small boy. It was 8-year-old Martin Richard, who will never get to turn 9. His sister Jane lost her leg in the blast, but, Walsh reported, she is playing CYO basketball again.

"Martin would have loved that," Walsh said. "The way he saw the world, anything was possible. All across our city, we are learning that, too."

Boston Strong has been a unifying theme, a force of nature that has come to symbolize everything that is good and right about our city.

But some are stronger than others, and we must never lose sight of that. Healing can be arduous, painful, and the timetable for recovery is divergent and deeply personal.

"My wish," Haslet-Davis said, "is we use this day as not just a day of remembrance but a day of action.

"If anyone is wondering what they can do, what you can do, look around. The people in your community need your support, your time, your guidance."

Survivor Patrick Downes and his wife have undergone 13 reconstructive surgeries between them since the bombings. Both lost parts of their legs last April, and yet, Downes declared Tuesday, he was proud to be a Bostonian "because I'm so proud to be connected to all of you."

The hope, as church bells chimed and mournful bagpipes played, was to provide some closure for a city that has been deeply wounded. The 118th running of the Boston Marathon is just days from now, and race officials are optimistic that by Monday, our city and its survivors can muster the courage to look ahead, not behind.

"You are strong at this broken place," former mayor Tom Menino told those assembled at the ceremonies.

Boston Strong. It is more than a catch phrase, a slogan, a T-shirt.

It is the foundation of a new start.

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