When I heard about the explosions at the Boston Marathon, and started reading the confused and nervous Tweets and reports that soon followed on Monday afternoon, my mind turned back to 9/11 and details I hadn't thought about since. Milling about with co-workers on Pennsylvania Avenue that hot day in 2001 (I'd been evacuated from my D.C. law office which happened to be situated a few doors down from the White House), I'd felt more lost than scared -- not quite sure where to go or what to do. And though each new rumour that made its way through the small crowds of people - "I heard a bomb just went off at state!" "They're talking poison gas release in the Metro!" - was met with cynicism and raised eyebrows, each rumour also ate away at our confidence in ways we tried not to show. We knew the unthinkable had happened, but that wasn't the hard part at that moment - or not the hardest anyway. Far worse was not knowing if the unthinkable had ended. And not having any way of finding out.
My sense is that a similar bewilderment was part of what made the past week so especially distressing for Bostonians. The pain of seeing innocent friends, family, and fellow citizens murdered and maimed was obviously devastating enough. But it was the lingering uncertainty about where, when, and whether another burst of violence would occur that took the anguish to the next level. (Being locked down in your own home will bring on that kind of anxiety for you if you haven't already brought it upon yourself.)
The fact that the two suspects in the Boston attacks are now accounted for does not lessen the damage done. Let's hope, however, that it does mean we can at least declare this particular episode of unthinkable bloodshed to be finished. You can't begin to process a catastrophe until you know you're no longer in the middle of it.
WARNING: Some of the photos from the scene may be graphic and disturbing.