Sometimes people think Life is Good is just about hanging out at the beach on perfect, sunny days. But optimism is actually most valuable — and most powerful – on darker days.
New England is steeped in rich traditions, and one of our favorites since childhood is the Boston Marathon. The race always takes place on the third Monday of April, and it is the oldest annual marathon in the world – 118 years and counting. Screaming fans who’ve been cooped up all winter line the 26-mile course from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to Boston’s historic Back Bay neighborhood. The sprawling scene is always ultra festive. Parties on front lawns and rooftops, barbeques on stoops, music in the air, and wall-to-wall people spilling into the streets to sing and dance and cheer on the runners. It’s a special day to be in the city. Perhaps the piece de resistance is the homemade motivational signage: “Wicked Hahd but you gut this Mah!” or “Cold one waitin’ for ya Uncle Billy!”
From 2004 through 2014 our headquarters were right in Boston’s Back Bay, only a couple of blocks from the finish line. So our employees could walk right out the door to cheer on friends in the race. Later in the afternoon, we’d all meet up on our roof deck on Newbury Street for a cookout. We’re pretty simple people, so looking around at the smiles on the faces of lifelong friends and co-workers on Marathon Monday was always a nice slice of the American dream for us.
On April 15, 2013, however, that dream became a nightmare. The Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent related shootings killed four innocent people and badly injured more than 200. The Back Bay streets became a sea of panic and chaos. The bomb detonations resounded loudly through our office, drawing our team to the 6th floor windows above the street in time to see people running and cops descending on the scene. We got on our cell phones and gathered all of our crew back at the Life is Good offices so we could make a count. When the dust settled, we were missing one.
Our good friend and colleague John Banse had been standing near the second of the two bombs, and he was hit. We went straight over to Mass General Hospital, where they were operating on him, but were unable to get any information about his condition because we are not immediate family. Understandably, the hospital was crawling with heavily armed military forces, which was actually comforting to see at the time. (People often complain about the military and the police until we need them.) In the wee hours of the next morning, we were asked to leave the hospital. We left not knowing whether our friend was going to live or die. “We expect he’ll live”, was the exact quote from a surgeon. Not particularly comforting.
Once the sun was up, we went back to the hospital and they let us in to see our friend. He didn’t look pretty, but he was alive and talking to us. It’s hard to express the relief we felt at that moment. The bombs used in this hideous act of terror were pressure cookers packed with nails and ball bearings. The doctors had spent the night removing as much of the homemade shrapnel as they could, literally from John’s head to his toes. His body was covered with wounds, he had third degree burns, his left Achilles tendon was half severed, and both eardrums were ruptured. Yet all things considered, he was one of the fortunate ones, and he knew it. In a true show of his character, minutes after we entered his hospital room, he said, “I’m grateful.” Those seemed like odd words coming from an innocent victim of a violent crime. He later explained that he had seen some of the other victims, so he was glad to still have his life and all his limbs.
While the police spent the rest of the week successfully hunting down the bombers, we needed to focus on the rest our team’s health at Life is Good. Many of our employees were shaken up by what they had seen and heard, and by the fact that one of our own teammates was suffering. Over the next few days, we made sure trauma counselors were available to everyone, and we tried to spend lots of hours together as a group. Meanwhile, “Boston Strong” became the popular slogan in the streets. It was a powerful message of unity and resilience. People took pride in the idea that the terrorists had messed with the wrong city. Many other clothing and sports companies began producing “Boston Strong” T-shirts, so our customers and staff naturally began asking if we would produce them as well.
It was very tempting to do just that, but then we felt there might be an opportunity to make a different kind of statement. We met with some of our team to discuss what a brand called Life is Good should say in such a moment. It wasn’t an easy conversation. No matter how we sliced it, two young men had chosen to commit a horrific crime whose aim was death and destruction. All major media outlets were making sure we saw those bombs exploding over and over and over again. The hate story was being told everywhere we looked. But there was another story unfolding too — a more powerful one.
Seconds after the bombs exploded, people were performing acts of love. The EMTs and other first responders to the scene, the people who lent their phones or welcomed strangers into their homes, the runners who pushed themselves beyond marathon distance and ran to nearby hospitals to give blood, the medical staff that worked 40 or 50 hour shifts. And what happened after the first few days passed? The love only grew. People donated services to expedite creation and delivery of custom prosthetics; musicians donated their time and talents to raise spirits and money. People from around the globe sent caring letters and prayers, opening their hearts and their wallets to help. It was an outpouring of love.
Yes, two young, very confused men committed horrible acts of hate, and we can’t reverse that. But following those acts, and as a direct reaction to those acts, millions of people performed acts of love. The Boston Marathon bombings showed two human beings at their worst and millions of human beings at their best. We talked about all of this as it was happening. And we realized that love was the real story.
This article is excerpted and adapted from the book Life is Good by Bert and John Jacobs, published by National Geographic on September 1, 2015. Copyright © 2015 The Life is Good Company.