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Beautiful Strangers

November 6, 2013

It was Marathon Monday in Boston and I was baking cookies. Or, trying to; the world seemed set against me. Flakes of egg shell swam in the yolk, escaping under fragile yellow sacks as I struggled to excavate the shards. When I finally retrieved them, my fingers were sticky and my temper was short. One arm ached from churning the batter, the other from the heavy bowl. And once I’d finally shoved the cookies into the oven, I had to wash dishes.

I checked my phone when I was done. All fifteen new messages contained the same perplexing lines: “Are you okay?” “Please say you’re alright.” “Were you watching the marathon?” I lifted my eyes to meet my father’s. His eyebrows brushed the rim of his eyes and the corners of his mouth pinned down a firm, hard line. “There was explosion near the finish line,” he said. Only then did I notice the sirens. The helicopters. The silent people on the street, all hunched over their phones, all hurrying away from the race.

I joined my mother at the computer and together we watched the news stream in. When the severity of the incident finally hit me—that this was no manhole leaking puffs of smoke—my mind swelled with disbelief, confusion, and anger. I was furious at humanity, at all people everywhere, for being capable of such unspeakable atrocity. And I was angry at myself for the naive trust I’d previously placed in them.

But among the jarring statistics that unfolded were local residents who offered their homes to runners with no place to go. Friends we hadn’t heard from in years phoned to check that my family was safe. The entire world prayed for Boston. Firsthand, I felt the kindness and selflessness that people rarely find occasion to express. I thought this event had destroyed my faith in humanity, but the rest of the world—friends and strangers alike—restored it, inspired it, humbled it.

That night, I cried. I cried for how unpredictable and unfair life can be. For how trivial my frustration was over the imperfect cookies. For how precious the things I take for granted are, and for how easily those things can be taken away. But most of all I cried because I was so touched that, amid the horror, beautiful strangers are there for us in the unpredictable course of life.


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