More than ever, Boston shows, our lives are interconnected

Elissa Goldberg (left) and Martha Davis, both of Mount Airy, ran in the Boston Marathon. Goldberg wearsa Red Sox jersey she was given by a man in Boston whose cellphone she used.
Elissa Goldberg (left) and Martha Davis, both of Mount Airy, ran in the Boston Marathon. Goldberg wearsa Red Sox jersey she was given by a man in Boston whose cellphone she used. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 22, 2013

"People instantly wanted to connect," Martha Davis said two days after not quite finishing the Boston Marathon. "They came out of everywhere, trying to help and encourage everyone. It was a web of connection, a web of love, perfect strangers hugging, saying, 'Don't panic.' "

As Monday's bombing gave way to shootouts, deaths, lockdowns, many in the Philadelphia area are connected to events 312 miles to the north. Many, like Davis, ran the race. Many more knew people who ran, or who worked at the event, or who live or work in Cambridge, Boston, and environs. Millions more watched the 24/7 coverage, and, in the way of the modern world, bore the burden of connectedness.

"It's a cliché, but it does highlight our increasingly interconnected world," said Nicholas A. Christakis, medical researcher and social scientist at Harvard and coauthor of Connected. "Human beings have always been interconnected: Hunter-gatherers have connection-structures much like ours. But we clearly are increasingly interconnected today, as new technologies amplify and facilitate interpersonal influence."

You could hardly be closer than Randy Clever, 63, of Germantown. He was crossing the finish line at the very moment of impact.

"I was raising my hand in victory," he said a few days later, still shaken, "and I stopped midway and turned around and saw all the dust and debris and smoke." No idea it was a bomb - until the second blast. "Then it was surreal. My biggest worry was my family. They were supposed to be waiting for me at a waiting area around the corner. I was worried they'd try to come back up and watch the finish. They did think about it - but the kids said, 'Aw, we're too tired,' so they stayed in the waiting area. We said later, 'Isn't it great to have tired kids!' "

Davis, 48, a Mount Airy resident in her fifth Boston Marathon, was farther back and didn't know yet about the bombs. "People were suddenly running toward us," she said, "carrying their children, telling us, 'Go the other way.' " An hour of confusion and cold followed, with 10,000 runners stranded.

Davis and fellow runner Elissa Goldberg of Mount Airy asked a Boston couple for a phone so they could text family. The couple did more. "The man gave Elissa his brand-new Red Sox jersey. When she tried to give it back, he said: 'You need it more than I do. Just wear it to a Phillies game sometime.' " (The Phillies have sent them tickets to do just that.)

Christakis said that "by far our strongest connection is the personal." In Connected, he shows how first-, second-, even third-degree connection can be extremely influential. People throughout our area are sutured to Boston by degrees.

Former Bostonian Suzie Hill of Ardmore can tell you all about it. She knew people very much involved. A niece walking from Fenway Park toward the finish line heard the blasts. Old pal Alan Hagyard, 66, was a runner just crossing the line when the bombs went off.

"It's hard to process," Hill said. "Everyone who's ever lived in Boston is connected to that race. It doesn't make sense, what happened. My niece was beside herself, saying, 'How can this be happening in my city?' "

Danielle Sieber, 29, is a Bryn Mawr native who moved to Boston last summer. Her husband, Brady, a surgeon in the residency program at Harvard, had the day off. "We decided to check out the finish line area," she said. "We came out of the Starbucks right next to where the second bomb was. I texted a friend we were leaving. That was at 2:46, and we walked away." The bombs went off about 2:50. How does she feel? "A little better than I did - but we are so lucky to be alive." Their connection continues: Brady Sieber has helped consult on treatment of victims.

Days afterward, the runners report shock and trauma. "Since coming back," said Kay Kyungsun Yu, 47, a lawyer from Fairmount, "I can't think of anything else but how horrific and evil this is. I'm hurting in body and mind." Davis said she's "wobbly, and sometimes can't remember how to finish my sentences." Clever said: "I can't watch the TV. I just can't look at it."

Trauma also comes to those who only watch. Myriad images and videos show the bomb blasts, the injuries. Many millions have seen Carlos Arredondo, "the man in the cowboy hat," who aided blast victim Jeff Bauman, whose legs were so badly maimed they had to be amputated. Bauman's family has roots in South Jersey and Philadelphia.

Images can traumatize, especially in an era of instant, constant broadcast. "Visuals connect us in ways words just can't," said Barbie Zelizer, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. "This was a marathon, a community event made for connection, for recording. Families were waiting to get a picture of relatives as they crossed the line. And then we see the transformation to terror. You see it on people's faces. It all changes. They go from running in celebration to running away from danger." There's real trauma there, Zelizer said.

Dan Gottlieb, therapist, former Inquirer columnist, and host of WHYY-FM's Voices in the Family, takes it seriously. "I immediately reflected, as many did, on how vulnerable I am. I could be anywhere, at any moment, and in a flash, life changes."

We try not to face it, Gottlieb said. "How could you? If you were always conscious of the risks, you'd be crazy to get up in the morning." But on the day of the blasts, "you couldn't turn your back. You had to accept that connection." The bombs were "what comes out of nowhere - and we hate that place called nowhere, where so much bad stuff comes from."

Some say we shouldn't have to see such images; several photos, such as those of Bauman, were cropped by newspapers and other media outlets to spare viewers. But Gottlieb said, "It isn't necessarily a bad thing to be reminded of our vulnerability." Jason Farago, an art critic who has written for the New Republic and other publications, thinks "such images place a moral obligation on us - to understand the world as it presents itself, to engage with the world around us, and there's no way to say no." He understands why people want not to see such things. "Images of violence come at us with speed and number like never before," he said. "But if we want to confront the world as it is, we should look."

All week after the bombing, runners flew back into Philadelphia International Airport. Thursday night, hundreds of local runners coursed through Center City in support of Boston and the bombing victims. Yu, who spoke by phone from the run, said, "I can hardly walk, but we're all turning out tonight."

The more complicated life is, the more the human mind, the great connector, sees connections, some of which seem beyond belief. Astounding: Joe Berti, a runner from Texas, saw the blasts in Boston, then flew back home to Texas, where he witnessed the explosion of a fertilizer plant near Waco. Heartbreaking: a photograph disseminated on the Internet of Martin Richard, 8, who would die in moments in the blast, in the crowd, enjoying the parade of runners, quite near Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, soon to be the object of a massive manhunt. Startling: Bauman, upon waking up from amputation, helped the FBI identify one of the prime suspects in the bombing, writing: "Bag, saw the guy, looked right at me." Bauman later was visited by actor Bradley Cooper, yet another Philly connection.

And social media sent all these images and connections to the world, instantly, again and again.

Amid shock and sadness, many swear it won't end here. The runners, especially, aim to keep up the connection. Davis insists "there's more good in the world than bad, and I will not have this event take away the joy and the freedom I feel when I run, the connection with other runners and with all humanity. I'm running this marathon again." So is Randy Clever: "I can't let it go at this. I'm going to requalify and be there next year."

Contact John Timpane

at 215-854-4406,, or follow on Twitter @jtimpane.

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