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GOLIS: Standing by Boston - even as we leave


BOSTON - On Monday afternoon, we were sitting in an airplane about to leave the gate at Boston's Logan airport when my cellphone buzzed.

News bulletin: Explosions reported near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Minutes earlier, our taxi to the airport passed along the Charles River, near the city center, and from an elevated roadway, we could see a parade of runners streaming toward the finish line.

And now this. It's difficult to recapture all the thoughts that go through your mind at such a moment. There is disbelief and shock, hope for the best and fear for the worst. Are family members safe? How many people are harmed? Those runners we just saw — are they OK? Who would do this and why? And what does this mean for people sitting in an airplane at this very moment?

Then the phone rang. It was my son, who lives in Boston, wanting to know if we were OK. There were two bombs, he said. There are reports that they may close the airport.

Moments before, we were busy revisiting memories of three happy days with our son and his family. On Saturday, along with countless other families, we explored the Boston Children's Museum in the company of our 2-year-old granddaughter.

On Sunday, we strolled Newbury and Boylston streets, the heart of what Bostonians call the Back Bay. The neighborhood was alive with locals and track-suited visitors, all celebrating Patriots Day weekend and counting down the hours until the 117th Boston Marathon on Monday.

After lunch at a sidewalk table, we passed near the finish line, steps from the Boston Public Library and our favorite Boston hotel, the Lenox. It was a fine day in Boston.

Back on the airplane, we could hear other passengers sharing reports of explosions, only six miles away.

Then the captain came on the public address system. We don't know much about what has happened, he announced, but if anyone concerned for the well-being of a friend or a loved one wants to return to Boston, we'll hold the doors open for a few minutes. If you want to leave, people will understand.

For more than 200 passengers, concern for the people caught in the bombs' blasts could morph into thoughts about their own safety. Was an airplane the best place to be if the explosions were part of a larger plot? What would we do and where would we go if we did get off?

From my vantage point, it appeared that no one got off that plane, but the usual airplane chatter disappeared. The first hour of that San Francisco-bound flight was the quietest I ever experienced. Six hours later in California, we began catching up to the horrific news — and returning text messages from family and friends worried about our well-being.

Forty-eight hours later, we know that at least three people were killed and more than 170 injured. We're learning about the composition of the bombs — which hopefully will lead to the identity of the people who built and placed the bombs. And we're learning some things about ourselves as well.

; In the rush of instant news, early news reports and other popular forms of hearsay can be wrong. We are wise not to leap to conclusions.

; At times of anxiety, cable-TV channels seem determined to amplify that anxiety — showing the same videos over and over again.

; In the face of evil and cowardice, people respond with compassion, generosity and courage. The stories from Boston will make you cry and make you proud.

; Nothing can spare us from the heartbreak of reading about the death of an 8-year-old boy.

; In the age of instant communication, we're still trying to figure out how to respond to random attacks. That is, we're still trying to figure out how to be cautious without being consumed by fear and without surrendering our way of life. (As the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the Boston bombings conclude a decade in which there were relatively few terrorist attacks in the United States.)

Seventy-two hours after we sat in a sidewalk cafe a few steps from where the bombs would explode, we feel sadness and anger at the same time.

We can't bring back that 8-year-old standing in the sunshine on a Monday afternoon. But we can find and punish the people responsible for his death, and we can show the world that we won't let terrorists change how we live our lives.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.