Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In the Wake of the Boston Marathon

OK, haven't posted anything here for years, but here goes.

I'm a relative newcomer to Boston: I didn't move here until 2003, after graduating from college. There are times when I feel like an outsider (hockey, Bruins, what?), and even times that I feel close to the city but also like I haven't quite earned my place (see: October 27, 2004). But Patriots' Day is an all-inclusive event, and it's been my favorite day in Boston since I got tickets to the morning Sox game, saw the flyover, saw the helicopters tracking the elite runners, and exited the park to see the marathon for the first time.

I'm a runner but a very slow, amateur one; that first experience of the 26.2-miler was before I'd ever run a race and probably before I'd ever run 5 miles at one go. Seeing this never-ending swarm of *normal-looking* people coming down Beacon Street after having run 23 miles was something new (wow! They're impressive! and, ...could I do that?). And seeing this never-ending swarm of a crowd cheering them on brought home that it didn't matter if you were from Boston, or from Philly, or old, or young--it just mattered that you joyfully yelled your heart out to support the people who looked just like you, but who were running and running, doing this amazing thing.

I think that's what lies at the heart of everything I've loved about Patriots' Day, which I recently called my favorite day in the city because (as I tried to explain, without quite the right words) everyone is happy and there's just positive energy everywhere. There's the early spring cadre of runners on the carriage paths of Comm. Ave. in Newton on Saturday mornings, growing each week, wearing marathon jackets, oblivious to the cold and snow as they prepare for April. There's the building excitement of the preparations along the route--barricades and port-o-potties set up a few days before, then the camera bridge at the finish line and the tents that take over Copley Square. There are the international flags waving at the finish line, with tourists and locals alike taking pictures and posing. There's the yearly blessing of the runners at Trinity Church on Marathon Sunday, culminating with a bone-vibrating rendition of Chariots of Fire on the great organ (the organist getting psyched up since he's running too).

I was lucky to be able to join Trinity's church choir this year, and on Sunday we premiered a piece written by that organist who runs and is also our director. After the priest made his annual, well received joke about Trinity appearing "like the City of God" to the runners at the end of the race, we sang: "They shall mount up with wings like eagles; shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." And then, a bit self-consciously in our robes, a few of us hung around the back of the church to hear Richard play Chariots of Fire and to cheer him on when it was done. Everyone all smiles, everyone having fun in anticipation of the big day.

The electricity of Patriots' Day isn't just about the marathon. It's the reenactments of the revolutionary war in the pre-dawn hours in Lexington ("the drums are scary--you get why they played drums then," a coworker told me yesterday morning). It's the baseball game--in the morning! It's a vacation day, a holiday. Even the skeleton crew of us in the office yesterday took some extra time at lunch to catch a few pitches on the TV. The happiness is absolutely catching, and everyone's invited.

I couldn't make it to the festivities this year so I took my morning run into the city, along the marathon route, ending up at the finish line at 7, the sun slanting over the city, the hardiest folks already settling in their camp chairs on the sidewalk along the barricades. I took pictures; I Facebooked them; I couldn't refrain from multiple exclamation points.

And that's where it all happened, where the nature of how this day is celebrated and remembered in Boston changed. The very sidewalk, the very barricades, the very finish line.

There will be more marathons and more Red Sox games and more cowbell-ringing for the runners, and the sun will shine on the finish line again. But always, and rightly, we'll remember the dead, the injured, in the *place where it happened*, which we'll talk about in whispered tones. We'll be forced to think about hatred, evil, lunacy, or whatever brings a person to do something like this, and not just the magic of reaching goals worth fighting for and of taking in a morning at a green ballpark or being part of the effervescence of a supportive, happy crowd.

Our task now is to let that remembrance fuel us to do more great things, to build a stronger community, to let that effervescence bind us together as a city and as a humanity, to be the light that dazzles against the darkness--to take this tragedy and make it help us to mount up like eagles, to run and not be weary, and to walk and not faint.