It has been a year since two bombs on Boylston Street turned Marathon Monday into a living hell in Boston. My own memories are that I was too close for comfort, just far enough to be safe. After watching most of the Marathon near mile 24 in Brookline, I decided to head down to Copley Square to watch runners cross the finish line. After braving the crowds there, I ducked into a restaurant two blocks away. Soon, people came sprinting through, screaming about explosions, crying, fleeing from the Boylston Street side of the building. That’s how I found out something had happened. What followed was confusion, uncertainty, not knowing what to do and where to go, where was safe. Boston was under siege.
But what I remember more are the superhuman feats of heroism that would seem folklorish if they weren’t true. The marathoners who ran 26.2 miles across the finish line, and then kept running to the hospital to donate blood for the victims. The doctors and nurses who didn’t lose the life of a single victim that made it on to a stretcher alive.
A group of soldiers from the Massachusetts National Guard walked the entire Marathon route in full gear. They wave the stars and stripes and slap hands with spectators along the route. Here they are coming past me at mile 24:
Just hours later, they were doing this:
(photo from Mother Jones)
After crossing the finish line with their 40-pound backpacks, they unpacked those bags and triaged victims with their first-aid kits. They pulled debris off of people trapped under bleachers.
There were countless incredible acts like this on that day. What makes Patriot’s Day so special in the first place became utterly and vitally necessary: ordinary people tapping into something heroic and pushing themselves beyond known limits. A small-minded attempt to turn Patriot’s Day into carnage butted up against the immeasurable force of the human spirit.
In the days after, Boston grieved. It looked to community and sports as a bond both physical and psychic, an outlet to raise voices and assert the will of the city. On the Wednesday after the bombings, this happened:
That Saturday, after Boston smoked out the surviving bomber from a boat in a Watertown backyard, David Ortiz, the King of Boston, made a pitch-perfect profane and defiant rallying call – a reclamation of the city and its freedoms. Stay strong.
Of course, for a full day, our freedoms had been dictated and our city was a military occupation zone, as the full weight of Boston area law enforcement descended on Watertown to hunt Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Outsiders warned of troubling usurpation of individual liberties, that the “shelter in place” order confining people to their homes was little more than a benign euphemism for martial law. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Boston that would register these objections to Boston’s militarization that day. For one day, Bostonians put individual freedoms and autonomy on pause, sacrificing for the communal good after trauma. It was a testament to the lengths Boston will go to achieve closure and justice.
I’m just passing through Boston, but it is impossible to be anything but enamored with the town – that perfect state of grace. On a gorgeous April day, there is no better place to be. But even passing through, the spirit of the city stays with you: the embrace of community in tough times, the resilience to never be defeated.
On Monday, that spirit and resilience will be on full display in the 2014 Marathon. And every marathoner that crosses the yellow stripe on Boylston Street will mean something important. Resilience. Triumph. Reclaiming our city and our day. Stay strong.