It began with a 6 a.m. phone call.
They found the bombers. One’s dead. The other’s on the loose.
Don’t leave the house.
Waltham, my home of five years, was in lockdown. Soon all of Boston would be too, and every eye in the nation was glued to the manhunt for the second Boston Marathon bomber taking place just outside my door.
As you might expect, the news hit close to home, but for reasons beyond the lockdown. The shootout that claimed one of the bombers’ lives took place right around the corner from where my wife and I used to live. The apartment building where the police discovered the surviving bomber’s blood after he made his escape was just across the street from where my best friend used to live. When the bombs went off at the marathon earlier that week, my daughter and I were at Watertown’s Arsenal Mall–now the staging area for the manhunt and visible on every American’s TV screen. And every other location the news chose to film that day, I knew intimately. For the first time in my adult life the biggest breaking news story in the entire world was unfolding in my back yard.
People learn a lot about themselves in situations of life and death. They discover how they’d act when the things that matter become the only things that matter. And what to do differently should the unthinkable befall them again.
Well, I learned a great deal about myself that day too. I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t the father and husband I could have been. I wasn’t attentive enough and I wasn’t protective enough. But I know what to do differently next time. I know what I did wrong.
And I know I’ll never allow it to happen again.
Upon digesting the dawn’s breaking news I immediately sprung into action: Everybody get dressed. Get your shoes on. Check the doors and windows. Pull down the blinds. Whip up some breakfast. Some coffee too. Within minutes my family was safe, secure, and very, VERY awake. Deep down we knew that the likelihood of something happening to us was miniscule, but were we going to take any chances? We were not.
As you’d expect, the local news was going bananas. But so were we, so we watched in rapt attention, digesting every morsel and crumb of information, correct or otherwise. Our phones started lighting up too–something that wouldn’t slow down over the course of the day. Everyone was checking in on us, and we were reciprocating.
My 2-year-old Audrey was oblivious to the goings-on, however. Thankfully too. To her, Friday was any ordinary day. The eerie quiet during the normally bustling morning rush hour didn’t raise any tiny eyebrows. Neither did the Black Hawk helicopters that streaked overhead later on. Perhaps she found it surprising that Momma was home, and maybe she found it slightly unusual that our friend right down the street stopped by later on with his dog and a boatload of lunch, but all of that was a joy to her. She wasn’t going to complain.
But it did become obvious that all the attention we were paying to the news was taking its toll.
“I wanna go outside.” I’m sorry, Honey, but we can’t today.
“I wanna go swings. I wanna go slide.” But we can’t, Honey. We have to stay inside.
“But I wanna!” I know, Honey. When you’re older we’ll talk to you about today.
My wife was the first to suggest that we pull ourselves away from the TV and put the focus squarely on our daughter. As much as I wanted to stay seated there, zombie-like, glued every breathless report, I knew she was right. So we painted. We painted a lot. It ended up being a big dirty mess with paint getting all over the table, couch, floor and more, but it didn’t matter. It was fun. It was distracting. It was what we needed. It was what she needed. But there’s only so long you can paint, and the news was still singing its siren song. Before long, there I was again, watching the same clips I had already seen dozens of times that day, waiting for something, ANYTHING new to happen.
As much as my wife checked Facebook, Twitter, and countless websites that day, she never lost sight of our daughter and her needs. A handful of times she had to remind me–sometimes verbally, sometimes with that knowing glance all husbands are familiar with–of my responsibility to Audrey. Keeping her safe wasn’t merely a matter of locking the doors. It meant protecting her from the stress of the day as well. And I wasn’t holding up my end of the deal.
In my free time as of late I have been reading about the people of London during the Blitz. They were under a terrible amount of stress, day after day, and with a much greater severity than anything Boston was undergoing. But they didn’t break. They stayed strong. And I believe an integral part of that was their focus on the simple things in life. They read their favorite books, played games with one another, and did everything they could to avoid focusing on the chaos outside.
Today, however, it’s much harder to disengage from the world outside. With 24/7 news coverage, phone calls, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of websites all buzzing like a swarm of locusts it’s increasingly difficult to just tune it all out. And last Friday I fell victim to its constant flow of information.
Over 12 hours after my wake up call the manhunt came to an end and my wife and I had a talk. She wasn’t mad, but I could have been better. I could have been more attentive. I should have helped out more. I would have been better off following her lead. And she was right.
Protecting our families from the terrors of the world outside isn’t merely a matter of locking our doors and windows. Its much more abstract than that. Every day Audrey looks upon the world with wide-eyed wonder. Rocks are a source of endless fascination. Sticks can provide hours of entertainment. She doesn’t need to know about the darkness in our world. She needs to believe in the world she lives in. Our world.
What was important that day was that she know her parents are always with her, no matter how dark the skies may be. That she can trust each one of us, through thick and through thin. That there is much to celebrate in the world.
So I take last Friday as a lesson. A tool to improve myself, both as a father and a husband. A reminder of where my focus should always be.
I hope to never experience a week like the last one again, but if I do, I will remember this day. Mistakes can be a good thing, but only if you learn from them.