Veterans of strife offer keen insights in coping

Terrorist bombings, the crackle of gunfire, and SWAT teams in backyards have introduced shocking new realities into the lives of Greater Boston residents this past week. But locals who have lived in parts of the world where the threat of bombings or random violence have been part of daily life for months at a time — Mumbai, London, Madrid, and Jerusalem, among them — have gone through this before.

From experience, they’ve learned how a community can regain a sense of normalcy after terrible violence and some of the good that can be gleaned from having endured such ordeals.

“I can say to people that we’ll get over this, but you’ll never forget it,” said Somerville resident Lynn Graham, who was in London when IRA bombs shook the city in the 1980s.


“It’s OK to be afraid,” she said. “But take the positive out of this, too. The sense of community it reinforces. It does help people bond. People are smiling more at each other. People are making more eye contact. ‘’

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Peruvian guerrillas terrorized Manuel Zapata’s homeland during his teenage years. Now 40 and living in Brookline, Zapata said he has two lasting memories from that time.

The first is of the day his parents moved his sister’s bedroom to the back of their apartment, out of fear she would be killed by street gunfire or a widespread explosion.

The second memory? “We continued going out with friends, we went to barbecues,” he said. “We didn’t board up the windows. I never stopped seeing my parents laughing and enjoying the company of friends.”

Zapata said he hopes that Bostonians reflect this week on how much they are doing for neighbors, for friends.


“We get consumed by the day-to-day war of paying bills and the like . . . you have to enjoy the small things that the day brings,” he said.

For certain, Greater Bostonians need to be more cognizant about potential threats, many said, with the mantra “see something, say something” more important than ever, but not to the point where people are paralyzed with worry.

Newton photographer Lana Mendelsohn was raised in South Africa, where muggings are a constant fear. During the late 1980s, she was in Israel, when a Palestinian uprising brought an almost constant threat of violence.

“Everywhere you went — the movies, to a concert, a wedding, the synagogue, a big hotel — you got searched,” she said. “But there’s literally a switch you turn off. You cannot think about it. You have to be more powerful.”

In South Africa, Mendelsohn was attacked once in her garage by a robber. But a few hours later, she was out shopping for dinner.


Despite the horror of the Marathon bombings, those who have lived around the world say that our community, by comparison, remains extremely safe.

“Having 9,000 or more police officers, National Guardsmen, and FBI agents out there should make you feel a whole lot better,” said Priyank Parakh, an Arlington graphic design engineer who was shot at by gunmen in a crowded train station while visiting relatives in Mumbai in 2008. “You have all these people who are sworn to protect you, and who will make sure this won’t happen again.”

Peter DeMarco can be reached at