It’s been a difficult time to write with thoughts of the Marathon and the empty feeling that accompanied that tragedy consuming me. There certainly has been no shortage of commentary in both the Boston and national media, with much of it understandably predictable, just as when someone dies or one close to you is diagnosed with a serious illness. It is a time to be empathetic and comforting, not for putting things in perspective. When you are ready for perspective, the best thing I’ve read so far is George Packer’s piece in The New Yorker.
I lived in various neighborhoods of Boston, starting with college, and worked in several other communities over the 44 years I was there. I guess because I was not born there, spending my early formative years in the city, I always felt like somewhat of an outsider, even though I was married there and had two kids born there. And, to be candid, while I have missed friends, I have not missed the city since moving away three years ago.
There are, however, two parts of Boston that will forever be part of me. One is the Red Sox, although that attachment began when I lived in another part of the state, 90 miles away. There have been, to put it mildly, numerous lean years and I’m not just talking about the 13-month period beginning in September 2011.
The other is the Marathon. I first saw it while riding the Cleveland Circle line downtown on a long-ago Patriots Day. Back then there were probably less than 300 runners, no crowds, and a bowl of beef stew at the finish. It has, of course, evolved into a real holiday, celebrating both the onset of spring and the determination of 25,000 runners (and, let’s not forget, the Battles of Concord and Lexington). The Red Sox always play on that day, beginning at 11:05 so those at Fenway can walk down to Kenmore Square and watch the race.
It was watching those odd ducks running down Beacon Street in the late 60’s that got me to start running. While I ran other marathons, I could not meet the then-qualifying standard of 2:50, so I never ran Boston. One of my few hard-core principles was that I would not be a “bandit” (as unofficial runners were called), and should instead go to the race and cheer on those who had worked hard to get there, including one of my brothers. If I could not be there in person, I would watch the entire race on local TV.
While the celebratory aspect of the Marathon is what attracted two brothers to kill and maim as many people as they could, it is a terrorist act that could happen anywhere and at any time. No event or venue is worse than another when innocent people are killed or maimed. Bostonians are justifiably proud of the first responders and medical personnel who did so much in the aftermath (including one who was murdered and another injured seriously), just as those from New York City and Oklahoma City are. Then, of course, there are the “ordinary” people who acted heroically, but are ordinary only in the sense that one could work with you or live next door to you.
It is fitting that part of the healing began in Fenway Park. Neil Diamond, whose Sweet Caroline became, for some reason, the theme song for the Red Sox, flew in from LA and called the main switchboard to ask if he could sing it live. As emotional as that was, it could not top the remarks of David Ortiz. Ortiz, a black man from the Dominican Republic, who has become the face and soul of a team that was the last in the major leagues to integrate – several years after Jackie Robinson “failed” his tryout in Boston – summed it all up: “This is our fucking city.”
Yes, Big Papi, it is.