The 118th running of the Boston Marathon, on April 21, 2014, was like no other. I know, because I was there the year before. At 2:49 p.m. on April 15, 2013, I had finished the race and was walking toward my wife when a loud noise erupted three blocks away, followed twelve seconds later by another immense bang. Chaos quickly ensued when word spread that two bombs had gone off. A woman came running toward us from the finish line, crying and yelling that there was blood everywhere on Boylston Street.
Putting one foot in front of the other was what mattered that day, and it is what matters through all of life’s peaks and valleys.
We looked up to the Prudential Center, located near the finish line, thinking the building may have been struck by terrorists. My wife and I then decided to leave Boston as quickly as possible, even though the physical effects of finishing a marathon would make a sudden departure challenging for my recovery. As we drove westbound on the Massachusetts Turnpike, state troopers were streaming into the city. My mind flashed back to memories of standing on Broadway in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, when 1 World Trade Center tumbled down right in front of my eyes.
On that morning, I was at work in my company’s office, located only a few short blocks from the WTC complex. Members of our staff started to receive panicked phone calls from family and friends who heard the initial report that a small plane had flown into one of the towers. I was sitting in a conference room with some colleagues on the ninth floor, and we noticed large amounts of paper floating in the air, like a ticker tape parade — except that we could see the paper had charred edges.
After the second tower was hit, we received conflicting information about whether to leave or to stay. I decided to take a walk to Broadway and assess the situation. I was two blocks away when 1 WTC collapsed. As the building imploded, many of us frantically ran towards the East River. I’ll never forget someone yelling that we were all going to die. Fortunately, I saw a post office loading dock nearby. I never ran so fast to get there and take refuge. Chaos and uncertainty reigned for the remainder of the day and for weeks and months ahead.
These two seminal events in my life have made me think back to my days at Wagner, from 1967 to 1971.
The Vietnam War was raging, and anti-war and anti-discrimination protests surrounded us. Society was going through a major transition, and college campuses, including Wagner, were feeling the effects. I remember watching the military draft lottery on television with fellow students in Towers dorm. Your future and possible fate were being determined by the order in which your birthdate was drawn from a large cylindrical container. There were a lot of mixed emotions in the room that evening, and on many other days and nights, as we all wrestled with our beliefs and values. Sometimes we debated and argued, sometimes we partied and defied authority. I’ll never forget the electric atmosphere on campus.
Fortunately, Wagner gave me the opportunity to attend the College’s study abroad program in Bregenz, Austria, during the spring semester of 1970. That time away provided me with some space to reflect upon what was going on in our country. The Wagner experience helped us grow and develop in so many ways that we could rely upon in future years. It was challenging to go through the transition, but we learned important life skills in being adaptable and resilient.
One of the lessons I learned during those turbulent times was to keep one foot moving in front of the other, no matter what. As a college student, I had watched the World Trade Center towers dramatically arise from the New York City skyline. As an adult, I watched them implode, changing the lives of everyone in America forever. Our company lost the friendship of former co-workers who died on that tragic day. Nevertheless, I knew it was important to get back to as normal a routine as possible and to keep moving forward. On Monday, September 17, 2001, we returned to work, as our building was one of few in Lower Manhattan that never lost power. Over the next several weeks and months, all New Yorkers rose to the occasion, demonstrating strength and resolve while attending memorial services for families and friends.
Similarly, after the 2013 Boston Marathon, many runners, including myself, made a commitment to return to the start line one year later in order to pay respect and demonstrate support to the families of lost and injured loved ones. Many of us went to Fenway the day before the race to cheer for the injured, who came onto the field using prosthetic devices or wheelchairs. The injured simply had done what so many Bostonians do every year on Patriots’ Day: cheer and support the runners of Boston. They had paid a high price, but they were not giving up.
As we walked towards the start line that day, there was something electric in the air — captured in the slogan “Boston Strong” — that provided us runners an even greater sense of purpose to finish the race no matter what lay ahead. It really did not matter what your finish time was that day, as long as you got to the finish line. Putting one foot in front of the other was what mattered that day, and it is what matters through all of life’s peaks and valleys.
Bob Haberle ’71, a veteran marathoner, is the chief liquidation officer for Legion Insurance Company. Previously, he was president of Reliance Insurance Company. He lives in Pennington, New Jersey, with his wife, Pam; their son, Taylor, is a sophomore at Wake Forest University.