Left or right? A seemingly minor decision leads me away from danger

[In 2013, David Meier cruised through his fourth consecutive Boston Marathon in 3:23:10, finishing in the upper half of his age group. He offers an introspective look at what happened next on his website www.brokentoenails.com.]

Left or right? That was the choice we faced as we exited the Westin Copley Square that beautiful April afternoon. I had just finished the 2013 Boston Marathon and was feeling pretty good about myself. I was starving, so I said to my wife “Let’s go this direction away from the crowds.” So just a few hundred yards from the finish line, we turned away and headed down Dartmouth Street.

And there it was – a boom that stopped everyone in their tracks. People stood in the street and looked around, while cars blew their horns at the confused pedestrians.

A local said to no one in particular “That’s a dumpster, that’s normal.” Writing off what they had heard as simply “sounds of the city,” and with cars and trucks became more impatient with those standing in the street, pedestrians again began heading towards the safety of the sidewalks. And there it was again: Louder the second time and echoing off the tall buildings in a confusing medley of clanks swirling around Copley Square.

There are often points in our lives where we have choices to go left or right. Many times there’s not a clear right or wrong direction, but more of a choice of paths which will ultimately impact the rest of our lives. We take a different route home, we go to this store instead of that store, and all the while never knowing how these seemingly unimportant decisions might alter our lives. You always hear about people who missed a flight only to find out later their scheduled plane had crashed. Which road did they take? Did they stop to pick up something and then missed their flight? Or, did they simply leave the house too late? A string of tiny, simple decisions map our lives and we’re not even aware it’s happening.

I began to think about these things as we sat in the relative safe harbor of a Boston restaurant on April 15th,watching police and fire trucks speed by our window. And as the news reports starting coming in, I thought about what might have been. Left or right?

A slower run? A decision to return to the finish to watch other runners complete their race? What about a different timer on the bomb? All things that could have changed our lives even more than the events that were happening in front of us on the giant TV over the bar. And how surreal to watch the horrible stories unfold on a 50” HD television while it actually happens just two blocks from where we sat. Even more so, how strange it was to watch these things occur within feet of where we had stood just 40 minutes earlier. Waves of selfish panic washed over us as realized how close we came to being on that 50” screen versus tucked safely behind a bar stool at The Salty Pig.

The restaurant filled quickly that afternoon as people were evacuated from the finish line area and displaced from the surrounding apartments, hotels and pubs. Family members arrived frantically trying to get a mobile signal on their phones in an attempt to contact people they knew at the finish. Phone lines were mostly down and the sense of fear grew with every news update and rumor brought in off the street. Within a short time it hit everyone this wasn’t just a scare, but the real thing.

Victims of tragedies speak of the guilt they feel because they survived when others did not. I think before April 15th I would have considered these silly thoughts, a waste of time to consider, an exercise in futility. But now those feelings somehow seem relevant, maybe even important. I suspect many runners who participated in the 2013 Boston Marathon have had the same thoughts about all these things as we all drudge through the melancholy hangover left by the bombings.

My heart grows heavy as I wonder about turning left and heading to the finish line instead of going to the nearest restaurant. Would we have been hurt? Would I have gotten involved? Would I have turned and run or helped the injured? Should I have turned and run towards the sounds of the explosion? These things linger on my mind and I tell myself I would have done all the right things. I hope that is true. For those who were there and acted so heroically, we know it is true.

David Meier
Bradenton, Florida
April 15, 2013
Age – 46
Bib # 7669