Marathon brings blessings of family

I promised myself I would do better by my cousins, but more years evaporated. The night of the marathon bombings, I cast back in memory for the last time I had seen Gillian and all I could picture was a winsome, wide-eyed little girl. Now, I learned, she managed operations for the pulmonary clinic at Boston Children's Hospital and had raised more than $5,000 in marathon pledges for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Stephanie left nursing for health care marketing. Larry is in his 29th year at Westford Academy outside Boston. Both will retire within the next year. I'd seen them more recently, at my father's 85th birthday celebration. Larry took the occasion to give a beautiful speech about my dad's influence on him, articulating things I'd never heard or understood before.

"I was bucking the system,'' Larry told me last week, reprising his remarks at my request since I hadn't taken notes at the party. "I was going to be the first Guidetti to go to college. He always would encourage me. Whenever I had doubts about whether I'd be smart enough or good enough, he was my model: 'If Uncle Vincent did it, and he thinks I can do it, I can do it.'"

In the days after the bombings, I thought a lot about what more I didn't know about the people I'd known the longest. Gaps had opened up in my life -- inadvertent, perhaps, but they needed attention. Actor Tim Robbins' famous line from "The Shawshank Redemption'' -- "Get busy living or get busy dying" -- scrolled through my head. I told myself I better get busy getting reacquainted with my extended family.

The scar tissue that binds Boston now is also connective tissue. I suspect it feels that way for many torn and touched by the tragedy. I know it does for my cousins and me.

I returned to Boston last August and retraced all my steps from marathon day, reclaiming the end of the race for myself. Then I had a meal with Larry and Stephanie and Gillian. We made a pledge to each other to keep the lines open. I had gotten out of the habit of making personal plans on business trips, afraid work would intervene. That reduced love to an ordinary obligation, and that had to stop. From now on, I told them, I would never come without calling first. Even if we couldn't see each other. Just to check in.

On Boylston Street last April 15, Stephanie dialed her daughter and improbably got through. Gillian was on Beacon Street, running on fumes and unaware of what had happened.

She heard her mother scream something about explosions and felt a surge of irritation. Everything looked normal where she was. "What are you calling me for?'' Gillian shouted into the phone. "I'm running a marathon. I'll call you when I'm done.''

"I figured she was exaggerating,'' Gillian told me. "I hung up on her. If anything had happened ..." Her voice trailed off. 

Her mother can laugh now about Gillian's exasperated tone, the phone clicking off in her ear. Those few seconds told her what she needed to know: Her daughter was all right. There would be more time to talk, but not all the time in the world. "We are much more conscious of the time we spend together,'' Stephanie said. "We bought season tickets for the Boston Ballet. We're being smarter about what we're doing.''

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