Thursday, April 24, 2014

The People Who Are Boston Stronger

{This past week has been a whirlwind of activity and emotions. I have been blessed to meet people who are the embodiment of Boston Stronger. My blog yesterday, today and over the next several days features several of the people who have graced my life during this past week since the anniversary of 4/15/13.}

I spotted the man in the white cowboy hat almost at the same time he saw Tom and me on Boylston Street and Yawkey Way on Sunday 4/20. We were wearing our BAA volunteer jackets.

"I'm Carlos," he said. "Thank you."

I said, "I know who you are." I threw my arms around him. "Why are you thanking me?" I asked him. "Thank you!!!" I said.

He told me that he noticed our volunteer jackets and wanted to thank us for however we were helping with this year's marathon.

He said, "We are all in this together. We are all in this together."

I asked if I could get a photo with him. "Of course," he said without hesitation.

After 4/15/13, I remembered reading a story about the man in the cowboy hat who had set himself on fire after his son died in Iraq and was responsible for saving the life of Jeffrey Baumann. Having worked at the VA, I had a vague recollection of hearing his story but in the aftermath of 4/15/13, I wasn't able to really take in the news of what was happening. I was experiencing my own traumatic reaction to the events and having been so close to where the second bomb exploded. Yet I constantly gave thanks that we were not outside because we never got the text that our friend hit the 40K mark. We had planned to go downstairs on Boylston Street after we received the text from the suite at the Mandarin where we were celebrating Marathon Monday with Spaulding Rehab.

We told him that we had done the packet stuffing for this year's Boston Marathon and were going to be a part of the pre game ceremony at Fenway. We told him that we had just come from Jeff's book signing of Stronger at the Team Store on Yawkey Way. We shared with him how moved we were to meet him and talked for a few more minutes before saying goodbye. Carlos introduced us to his wife Mel and we said we'd see each other at the game.

As it turned out, Carlos and the survivors came onto the field from another entrance but we did see each other at the game and felt each other's energy; everybody's energy that in fact we are all in this together.

When I got home, I googled Carlos Arredondo. My breath caught to learn that his son suicided after his other son Alex had been killed by a sniper in Iraq. I know all too well the heartache of suicide having experienced the suicide of my dad when I was 17 and then my 27 year old nephew in 2011, the same year his son suicided. He continues to struggle with post trauma symptoms from being right there when the first bomb went off. Rather than run for his own safety, he rushed in to help and saved Jeff Baumann's life.

In Stronger, Jeff talks about when Carlos visited him in the hospital. "He smiled and came toward me, and I couldn't help myself, I reached out and hugged him. Carlos is a hugger. He's always smiling, always wanting to step close and talk. ... He gave me a hat and a handwritten sign: Together Strong."

Jeff goes on to say that Carlos was reluctant to talk about himself but once he did, Jeff was moved to tears by his story.

"He had been at the finish line of the Boston Marathon handing out American flags. He was there to support the "Tough Ruck" team, twenty National Guardsmen who had started marching the marathon route with rucksacks at 5:30am. They were raising money for the families of soldiers killed in action, or those who had committed suicide or died in PTSD-related accidents. One of the guardsmen was marching in honor of Alex."

Jeff goes on to describe their encounter where they both cried, ending with Carlos saying to Jeff, "Don't cry, he said, wiping away his tears. Something good happened."

Here is a man who has been to hell and back and then was there to witness the terror of 4/15/13. Yet he focuses on the good that can come out of tragedy.

“It’s been a year of grieving, and of moving on with life, healing through the support of others,” Arredondo told the Globe. “It’s been a year of overwhelming kindness. Oh my goodness, the overwhelming kindness.”

How amazing that we just happened to 'bump into' Carlos Arredondo. He is a Gold Star Father Hero raising money and awareness for veterans and their families. We each felt an instant attraction and connection to one another. We both allow ourselves to live with a raw heart overflowing with love, gratitude and goodwill. I was passionate about my work as a VA social worker seeing first hand the ravages of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I knew that I had to leave and could not care for this new wave of veterans. I knew that I was burned out, without any idea of how to take care of myself at the time and I had to hand the torch to the younger generation of social workers to carry on the work. I knew it was time to leave to heal my life. Carlos and I each know the pain of losing loved ones to suicide yet when we met on the street near Fenway Park neither one of us knew this about each other. We were separated by a distance you can measure in feet on Boylston Street when the bombs exploded. It was only by the grace of God that we were protected from experiencing the full impact of the explosions and have only emotional wounds to heal. All we did know was that we were all in this together bound by having journeyed through this last year together and finding ourselves Boston Stronger.

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