Thursday, April 25, 2013

Watching the Boston Marathon Bombings from Japan

Watching Home from Far Away: On Watching the Boston Marathon Bombings from Japan

Guest post by Tracy Slater

On April 16th, 2013, I had an experience many expatriates have probably shared at one some point: sitting in my living room watching news unfold on a TV screen, news occurring in a place that’s both home and half a planet away.

The sun was filtering through the soji-screen covering the windows of the tatami room where our TV sits, in the apartment I share with my Japanese husband in Osaka. Pale morning light spread across the straw-matted floor in front of the screen, where in slow-motion, Marathon runners buckled and tipped, gray smoke propelling outward in angry billows. Event officials in bright yellow jackets swarmed over gray metal barricades. Spectators sat clutching limbs or carried wounded strangers, their faces all etched in shock.

I was watching my home, Boston, after the bombings at the Marathon. Behind the slow-moving mayhem on the screen, I could see the street corner where my drug store was, the store fronts I had passed and sidewalk I had tread hundreds of times as a life-long Bostonian, pre-marriage and pre-expatriatism. As a teenager, I’d lived just two blocks from the first bomb; as an adult, just a few blocks further from the second, until, at 36, I fell madly in love with a man from Osaka and left my hometown for his.

The carnage in Boston, as I watched it in Osaka, felt both very close and very far. It was nighttime now in Boston, and the footage I was watching was a few hours old. In the morning sunshine, I sat and watched and was shaken and sad. I thought about the darkness shrouding, at that very moment, the streets of my home where the bombs had detonated, now reflected back to me in a way that felt both immediate and time-delayed, viscerally near and ineffably out-of-reach.

My body itched with the impulse not just to do somethingnot just to react in some way besides gaping, as I stared dumbly at the TV—but to somehow dispel the weird duality of experiencing home and its pain from the remove of continents. I wanted suddenly to, somehow, literally touch the streets of my neighborhood as they were now touching me in my chest, at the same time that they remained flat and grainy and intangible from behind the sturdy glass of the TV screen.

So I did the only thing I could think of, as not just an expatriate but a writer abroad: I wrote. I wrote about how, although I left my first love, Boston, for my second love, my Japanese husband in Osaka, I never lost my primal connection to the city I will always call home.  Although it could do nothing for the lives and limbs lost in Copley Square that day, writing reminded me of why, no matter where I go and what new things I see and learn, I’ve always belonged to Boston first, and always will: just one tiny, inconsequential blip of an offering for a city I knew would need somehow to start to heal, and I’d have nothing much to offer it while it did. Except, of course, my love.

If you’re interested, here is what I wrote. Either way, I hope we as expat writers all keep telling the stories of where we are from, and of how that very telling helps each of us hold and share and even create anew our connection to and our pride in our home, even from oceans away.

Tracy Slater is a freelance writer and the founder of the award-winning global literary series Four Stories. Her book The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West, is forthcoming from Penguin’s Putnam imprint.


  1. Thanks, Chantal. So honored to be a guest-poster on your site!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Chantal. It was a terrifying enough event for us here; I hadn't thought about what it would mean to someone who knows Boston so well but life has taken so far away.

    Also, FYI: My family and I may be hosting a student from Switzerland next year!

  3. Hi John, that's exciting about possibly hosting a student from Switzerland! And thanks again, Tracy, for sharing your Boston marathon story.

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