Elation and uncertainty

To the Editor:

In the wake of the marathon tragedy, you invited us to share our stories, Doug. Ours is one of two hours of terror followed by relief and then the subsequent grieving for those families not as fortunate as ours.

Our son Ryan ran his 20th Boston Marathon last Monday. We’ve cheered for him at many other marathons across the U.S., but this one was special – a graduate of Tufts and Boston College, he has been dedicated to the Boston area since the days when his grandfather placed the grandson on his shoulders so that he could watch the re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington at 5 am on Patriot’s Day. And this was his 20th race in Beantown.

We sat on one of the wooden benches outside Peet’s Coffee shop in Wellesley Center, the halfway mark of the race. We cheered for the first to come by – the handicapped, a majority without legs, men and women. (I’ve often thought what a wonderful field trip this would be for Island youth who may not have experienced such an event.) Ryan’s wife, Amy, joined us, wheeling their two-year-old son Gannon in a jogging stroller. Amy has run this same race many times as well and always seems to be running close to Marilee Schroeder, our Island friend who once worked with me in the school system. But today we four (actually five, as we were accompanied by Zachary, our cockapoo) were there to cheer for a son, a husband, and a father.

Our plan was to cheer in Wellesley then to return to the Vineyard and await the call to say that Ryan had completed the race in his usual time of about three hours. He was right on target when he passed us in Wellesley. (I’ve typically carried a sign that says “Runner’s Mother” and many runners shout out “Hi, Mom!” as they careen past.) Amy left us at 11:45 to take Gannon to the finish line. We did errands, our car radio silent. Nor did we carry an IPad or smartphone. Not until we arrived on the 3:45 boat did a friend knock on our car window to tell us the awful news.

We drove home in silence. What was there to say? The time of the attack was clear, but where was our family then? Was Ryan in his running club’s recovery place getting a post-race massage and tending to sore muscles? Or were they still at the finish line cheering for their other friends?

A family member called us two hours later to say that she had received a text from Ryan. He was safe. At 7:30, he called to describe the ordeal himself.

“We were about to go home to Brookline on the T,” he said, “when we heard the news.” The family returned to their safe haven with the running club. Hours later vans arrived to transport runners and their families to their various homes in the greater Boston area.

But our terror didn’t end on Monday night. On Friday morning, Amy did what she does regularly – she jogged from Brookline to Watertown to swim in the Y before work. Little did she know that the manhunt had moved from Cambridge to Watertown during the night. Only moments after she left did Ryan turn on the television and realize the danger she was in. Should I venture out with the baby, he wondered, when the felons had already carjacked at least one car? Or should I just wait? A stranger, a woman Amy had never seen before, met her outside the Watertown Y, told her what was happening, and insisted that she drive Amy home. Yet another anonymous stranger doing what good people do.

We believe in the power of prayer so we will do what my Irish mother-in-law would advise today: “Storm heaven!” We pray for the victims, their families and friends, for all who are touched by such senseless tragedy. I pray, too, that those who work in schools and colleges and in mental health careers will learn better to recognize and to intervene when a young man such as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev becomes so incredibly misdirected.

Elaine Pace

West Tisbury