Francisca Lopez was driving on Interstate 295 late Monday afternoon and noticed a pair of police cruisers on the side of the road. Her heart dropped briefly.
“For a split second, it reminded me of how close we are here to Boston,” she said.
Monday’s bombings, now considered an act of terrorism, are the first such attacks on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, a day that paralyzed the nation and introduced terms such as “threat level orange” and “homeland security” into everyday language. Reactions to the Patriots Day bombings reflected a similar feeling that the United States might return to that state of fear.
Lopez, 51, who lives in Portland and teaches Spanish at Bates College in Lewiston, was in Spain on sabbatical during 9/11 and said she felt displaced then, a continent away from home.
Monday hit closer to home. She remembered that night that she’s scheduled to take a flight out of Boston next week.
“Of course it gives you pause, but what can you do?” she said.
Although the Boston attack is not likely to have the same lasting impact on the nation’s collective psyche as 9/11 did, the event will resonate for years, especially in New England, said Luisa Deprez, a sociology professor at the University of Southern Maine.
“I think there is a natural proclivity to think of 9/11,” she said Tuesday. “There have been people wondering when this type of thing might happen again. You hope we never get to a place where we almost expect this.”
Richard Shadick, director of the counseling center at New York’s Pace University, said there are similarities to 9/11 in the public’s feelings of uncertainty.
“I think there is a sense of dismay now, too, though, that this doesn’t just happen in New York or Washington,” he said.
USM graduate students Meghan Rivis and Sonja Einsiedler were together in Portland on Monday when they heard about the marathon bombings. Within minutes, they exchanged texts, emails and phone calls with friends and relatives. Once they confirmed that everyone they knew was OK, the women reflected on whether the latest attacks meant people would once again live in fear.
“There was definitely an initial feeling of helplessness and despair,” Rivis, 28, who is from Vermont, said over coffee Tuesday in Portland. She wore a handmade T-shirt with a red heart painted on the front with the word “Boston” written inside. “But for me there is also the question of: What can we do?
As a society, how do we help people who are so disenfranchised, so full of hate that they want to do something like this?”
Einsiedler, 25, originally from Germany, said Monday’s attack has left her with a feeling of anxiety about attending big events or even visiting big cities. She hopes that will pass.
“I have such a hard time understanding what happened and why,” she said. “And also, you think about what else could happen. You hear about North Korea and you can’t help but wonder why there is so much anger.”
Rivis and Einsiedler, who are both studying to be elementary school teachers, said for all the tragedy that came out of the bombings, there was goodness, too, in how people responded.
“There were these incredibly selfless acts – people ripping their clothes off to stop someone’s bleeding,” Rivis said. “You just hope that there is more good than bad.”
Some of the public feelings about the events are likely to change as more information comes in, Deprez said. For instance, officials didn’t know Tuesday whether the bombings were the act of international or domestic terrorists. They didn’t know whether the bombs were isolated or part of a larger plot.
That unease, Deprez said, will keep people on edge.
“I think people have a greater resiliency to natural catastrophes like hurricanes because they are entirely out of our control,” she said. “These other events, including the shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, are hard because they happen in places where things like that are not supposed to happen.”
Shadick said proximity plays a role in people’s feelings, too. People in Maine are likely to be affected differently than people in, say, Idaho.
“But I do think these events become a permanent part of our collective consciousness,” he said.
Thatcher Freund, 57, of Portland said that although the Boston bombings were not on the scale of 9/11 in terms of injuries or lives lost, the ubiquitous images that have circulated on television, in newspapers and on the Internet won’t be easily forgotten.
“The sight of these people, these children with missing limbs, you can’t help but feel it,” he said. “The images and descriptions sounded like Afghanistan, only there were no soldiers or medics.”
Austin Saleeby, 26, and David Viney, 25, who were playing a card game Tuesday at an Old Port coffee shop, both said they don’t necessarily feel any less safe after what happened.
“I think it’s a reality that densely populated places are always going to be at risk,” Saleeby said.
The most upsetting thing about Monday’s events, both agreed, was the reaction to it.“Everyone wants to find meaning in this, and the sentiment is that whoever is responsible must be anti-American,” Viney said. “But we don’t have any information.”
“It’s almost like people were trying to out-feel each other,” Saleeby said. “So many people were angry about it. I’m just sad.”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: