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A Year After Boston Marathon Bombing, How Does Public Grief Help?

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It's been a year since a bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured hundreds of others.

The tragedy brought a massive outpouring of grief and concern from all over the world, as people sent flowers, running shoes, messages, quilts and all kinds of tributes to Boston.

The bombing even affected people who did not not have a direct connection with the city. Across the pond in England, Danny Bent says he "knew one person in the whole of the United States," but he tells NPR's Celeste Headlee that he was moved to act.

"We all felt this pain that everyone here in Boston was feeling and everyone wanted to do something," he says. "We didn't just want to open up our wallets and hand over some notes. We wanted to stand up and show our strength and solidarity for the people of Boston." So with two friends, he organized One Run for Boston, a non-stop running relay from LA to Boston that saw 2,000 runners take part this year.

In the small town of Hollis, N.H., Mary Thomas has knitted 20 blue and yellow scarves for the Boston Marathon Scarf Project. She sees them as "a symbol of comfort and strength." The project was set up by the Old South Church in Boston. They've collected over 6,500 scarves from across the world to give to runners and survivors. "As Senior Minister Nancy Taylor has said, it's as if we're knitting the world together with love and courage," Thomas points out.

But why did people like Mary Thomas and Danny Bent act after Boston? Rich Harwood is the founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. He worked closely in helping Newtown, Conn., come together and move forward after the shooting in Sandy Hook. He says that "the bombing was an affront to our sense of community, our sense of fairness, and I think what we see is a sense of people wanting to belong, to be part of something larger than themselves."


Interview Highlights

On what Mary Thomas has got out of knitting scarves for Boston's runners

The shock of living in a small community like Hollis, and having such a tragedy where so many were injured, where all those runners are there for a peaceful expression of athleticism, and you know, we're sheltered in a small town, but not unaffected. When a tragedy like this happens, the community comes together and really strengthens and I think that the scarves are a tangible way of us giving something to show support and courage and really hope for these runners, that they stay strong and run well.

Danny Bent on how public expressions of grief help

I think that if you can express it publicly, it makes people feel as though they are not alone. I mean, we were sitting there in the U.K. and we were feeling this pain and you're not really sure who to talk to. When you do it publicly, it brings forth people who are feeling that similar emotion and connections are made, and I think that can help a lot.

On why Rich Harwood believes the response to the Boston Marathon bombing has brought people together

There's something about us reconstituting our community, our sense of community. I think you have to remember that underlying all this, at least in the United States, is a deep yearning among Americans to come back into community life, to find a way to reconnect and re-engage with one another... And I think the response to the Boston bombing is one signal or one sign of that deep yearning and of people trying to make it real in their individual lives, but I think as importantly, in our collective lives.

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