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    Marathon bombings

    Normalcy returns, but grief still lingers a month later

    At the site of the first explosion, the one-month anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings passed as a typical Boylston Street tableau for much of Wednesday.

    Business people and tourists, students and residents strolled or hurried past the place where a shrapnel-filled pressure cooker had created carnage only steps from the race’s finish line. Few stopped at the spot, and few hints of its significance could be found.

    Then, at 2:50 p.m., the time when two homemade bombs detonated there April 15, a ­remembrance graced the sidewalk. Three dancers from the Paulist Center, a Catholic organization on Park Street, used the emotive language of movement to acknowledge the area’s lingering grief but also to ­reclaim the space.


    “We wanted to offer a blessing at the spot,” said Christine Monterio, liturgical dance minister at the Paulist Center. “People are hungry for healing in all sorts of ways.”

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    As Monterio and two other dancers performed on the sidewalk, using three large candles to symbolize the three people who died in the bombings, about two dozen pedestrians formed a semicircle and watched quietly.

    Polite applause followed each of four, short selections. Behind the spectators it was business as usual: Duck boats rolled down Boylston Street, exhaust-belching buses stopped and started, and impatient drivers honked their horns.

    Across the street, busker C.J. Hutchings was oblivious.

    “Today is the one-month anni­versary? No way!” said Hutchings.


    A block away at Copley Square, the unofficial bombing memorial teemed with activity. Hundreds of visitors strolled through a warren of thousands of mementos with smartphones held aloft, taking photo­graphs of stuffed animals, running shoes, American flags, and a rainbow-worthy potpourri of sympathy and ­encouragement.

    “This draws people because it’s a tragedy that, paradoxically, has brought us together,” said Cristina Nelson of Jamaica Plain.

    Volunteers handed out Hearts of Hope, ceramic keepsakes delivered to show support while Boston recovers. One, from Zack of Somers, N.Y., carried the message: “I am 13, and I like baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. Boston strong.”

    Steve Roy, 43, of Bridge­water, offered the heart to a visitor, no strings attached and no donation requested.

    “Whenever there’s this type of tragedy, it completely changes people’s outlook on life and makes people think about what’s really important: family, friends, love, compassion,” Roy said.


    Near him, artist Candace Whittemore Lovely stood beside “Boston Marathon Angels,” her oil-on-linen painting that depicts the bombings and their victims. Part of the proceeds will benefit the One Boston Fund, said Lovely, 60, of Hilton Head, S.C.

    While crowds remain large at the memorial, the number of visitors to Marathon Sports, whose doors open on the first bombing site, has started to subside, said Eric Pfalzgraf, 19, a Northeastern University student who works there.

    “This is the quietest it’s been since we reopened” about three weeks ago, Pfalzgraf said.

    For Pfalzgraf, who said the store has been inundated with the curious, the time has come to move on.

    “When you work here, you have to deal with questions about the bombing,” he said. “I can understand it. But for me, because I’m here every day, it only validates what these people did. You just kind of want it to be over at this point.”

    But for many people — includ­ing some of the 265 people injured, families of the victims, and first responders — the trauma will linger. For that reason, mental health counselor David Dorney of the Boston Public Health Commission ­positioned himself at the first bombing site to offer “preventive therapy,” he said.

    “We can help people by talking through what’s upsetting them,” Dorney said. “There are going to be people who tried to go numb.”

    One month has passed, but some people are only beginning to connect with the emotional pain of the day, he said. So, at the one-month milestone, ­Dorney showed up “just in case someone needs to be ­debriefed.”

    Bobbi and Don Smart used the anniversary to venture to the bombing sites for the first time. Even though they live in the North End, within walking distance, they had not returned to Boylston Street since Marathon Monday, when they waited at Massachusetts and Commonwealth avenues to watch their daughter-in-law run the race.

    The bombings put an end to her race, along with that of thousands of other runners stopped in their tracks. In most years, the Smarts said, they have watched near the finish line.

    “It’s just too sad,” said Bobbi Smart, 74.

    Sadness is not as palpable along Boylston Street these days, but the apparent return of everyday routine has not erased the memories of Patriots Day.

    Pfalzgraf, the Marathon Sports worker, spoke for many when he said, “I want things to be back to normal, but I don’t think they ever will be.”

    Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@