In the two years since the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013, we have seen many amazing examples of human resiliency. We have seen the people of Boston rise up and bond together over this shared trauma, with Boston Strong our motto. And we have seen families and individuals move forward with courage in the face of loss. Powerful news media images of amputees learning to walk on their new prostheses are emblazoned in our minds.
Quieter, less visible personal transformations have also occurred in many who were not physically injured by the bombs. Jennifer, a 42 years old woman who has suffered from depression for years and who was volunteering at the Boston Marathon Finish Line in 2013, describes the events of that day as “a turning point” in her life.
In Jennifer’s words, “Since the marathon, everyday is a gift.” She realizes how lucky she is to have walked away that day without any injuries, alive. Moreover, the events of that day, which for Jennifer included helping a runner reunite with his family in the aftermath of the explosions, changed her life goals. She now feels it is her responsibility to do something to help others and is committed to finding concrete ways to do so.
In what Jennifer describes as “an amazing coincidence”, she was signed up to participate in a Relaxation Response program at the Henry-Benson Institute of Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital the week following the marathon bombings. Primed by her marathon experience, she devoured what the course had to offer. The teachings not only deepened her sense of self-acceptance and gave her skills to manage her own depression, but also strengthened her resolve to help others, and she ultimately went on to become a peer counselor for subsequent groups.
The central message she came away with is that while we cannot necessarily control what happens to us in life, we can control the meaning we make out of our experiences. She is determined to make the events of April 15, 2013 mean something, and to translate this meaning into action. As far as her depression is concerned, she has come around to recognizing “some of the good things about depression”, namely her appreciation for the small things in life, and her increased sense of empathy for others. “It’s like any other illness”, she says. “It doesn’t have to limit you. It’s all about making it mean something.”
Originally published on WBUR CommonHealth Blog, April 20, 2015