Whether you’re a runner, a spectator, or just a guy who loves this town, each of us has his own memories to reconcile, his own peace to make. For me, today is a confirmation of everything I’d thought about how much would change the day two bombs exploded on Boylston Street.
Nothing. You know, some things just can not be changed.
Even in the heat of the moment, tragedy still unfolding, with the impact far from fully-realized, still trying to register what had happened, I just didn’t share the view that anything had permanently changed. I heard the cries and felt the pain of everyone who said, “this is it, nothing will be ever be the same about the marathon, the city or its people.” But, to me, that’s not how life works.
It’s not that I didn’t understand the scope of the tragedy or the cowardice of men who would launch sneak-attacks on people who are–in every sense of the word–stronger than them and, even worse, people who aren’t. I understood, to whatever extent possible, the life-altering pain, confusion, grief, anger. But some things are just too big to be changed. That’s not romanticism or defiance or hope and, God knows, it is not victim’s consolation. It’s just a fact.
Every Patriot’s Day something big happens here, in Boston, and it’s not just the world’s oldest continuous marathon. As South-Enders wander across the Corridor and North Enders cut across Haymarket and even the folks over in Jamaica Plain make that rare journey across Mass. Ave (or at least think about it), the rest of the world squeezes in and lines of demarcation fade away. A hardscrabble town cracks a smile and it’s truly a sight to behold.
I’ve seen that most clearly through the eyes of others. One of the many spectacular Patriot’s Days I remember, I wandered into the crowd drifting into Copley from Tremont. It was about 4:30, all the elite runners had long been shuttled off. But, like a lot of locals who’d opt to avoid the traffic, crowds, or just do other things that day, I’ve always prefered to show up after the fanfare just cheer on those last stragglers. It’s always a small local crowd left to to encourage our own, or those who become our own that one day a year, those who finish the race on sheer grit.
This is a day when infamous parochialism melts like the March frost, Bostonians are actually willing to make eye-contact as though they recognize you, and the do. You came here to do something, to win a battle we don’t know about, take a prize can not see and and we know that.
I was walking across the church yard with a friend, a transplant from D.C.. He was on his cell phone. He was on his cell phone a lot back then with friends in Washington or family in Arizona. Boston isn’t really an easy place to break into and it can leave the best of ’em longing for home. But when we reached the front of the library on Dartmouth, a few yards from the finish line, I noticed his conversation wasn’t about a place he missed, but the place he finally discovered a year after moving. He wasn’t complaining to the person on the other line, he was sharing. He was bragging.
Flanked by the BPL’s bronze goddesses of art and science on the left and the Trinity Church on the right, he was describing this newfound place. People were out, smiling, talking, welcoming and it didn’t seem that big, cold or dark a city after all. It was like he just found home, on Patriot’s Day, in the place he’d merely been living all year.
Buoyed by the lengthening days, the blossoming spring and promise of another summer in a coastal town, The Marathon, more than any other event reveals the spirit of this city. Parochialism starts to look familial and people don’t seem as defensive as they do protective. It’s the time when people get hooked and feel a sense of ownership in a city that will end up owning them in some way. So even if we don’t say “hi” to every random person we pass or ask where you’re from or care whether or not “y’all come back,” this place has a way of revealing itself in those lovely, long-awaited, shared moments.
When it happens, when you get it, you’ll forever understand Bostonians because you will be one too.
On Monday there’ll be the painful memories that’ll last forever, but there will also be an unassailable sense of community. It will be triumphant and irresistible like it always has. If anything, it’ll be stronger and that’s never going to change. Not because of two guys with bombs, or ten guys with bombs or even ten-thousand.
Some things can never be changed.