The 117th Boston Marathon will never be forgotten, and for many, I suspect the 118th won’t, either. Monday, on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, they’re expecting maybe 36,000 for the marathon, about 9,000 more than usually run it.
But this isn’t the usual marathon there. It’s the first since the 2013 running was devastated by the finish-line bombings that killed three people and injured a couple of hundred others, and Monday’s promises to be emotional and unforgettable and meaningful in a thousand different ways, both for runners and spectators.
It’s supposed to be partly cloudy, perhaps in the mid-60s and a little breezy, not bad marathon weather, and not a lot different from April 15, 2013, when the events of mid-afternoon turned lives upside down.
We were in a bar and grill that day three blocks from the finish line, celebrating my son’s first Boston, which he’d completed 90 minutes earlier. Then I heard, “Dad . . .” and turned around to see breaking news on a big-screen TV.
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Maybe 20 minutes before that, a couple of us had walked through thick crowds on Boylston Street, the final stage of the race, and come to a corner 50 yards from the finish line. We were halted by metal barriers, unable to move forward or turn right down a side street.
I asked a spectator at that barrier if there was any passageway other than to turn back. He said no, and that he’d simply decided to stand there for two hours.
If he stayed another 20 minutes, he was across the street, and between the two bombings.
The carnage was massive, followed by a week like no other — of false reports of impending arrests, the murder of an MIT police officer in nearby Watertown, a manhunt that essentially shut down one of the nation’s great cities. And finally, scarcely a day after a gunfight with the suspects, a teary, cathartic tribute at Fenway Park to bombing survivors, first responders and law enforcement, when it was a good thing to be wearing sunglasses.
The sporting world outside of Boston rolls its eyes at the city’s pro teams — Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins — and the perceived entitlement of its fans. (Does it have to win everything?) But if you heard Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah“ and watched the videoboard presentation that day, and heard David Ortiz say this was their effing city, you were persuaded that there might be something to this rallying cry, Boston Strong.
But then came the hard part, families grieving lost loved ones, survivors spending months in hospitals mending severed limbs and probably, broken psyches.
From those sagas, though, arose grace from the tragedy, tales of kindness and caring large and small, like that of Karen Rand, who lost a leg and her best friend, Krystle Campbell, in the bombing. Rand worked to bring a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador to Boston for a prosthetic leg after she was badly injured by a speeding car in that country.
Stories like that kept emerging, irrepressible light fighting the darkness, and Monday’s marathon will be more than a sporting event, more than a gathering on a state holiday, it will be a celebration of the human spirit.
Last week, on a bleak spring Tuesday of gusting wind and rain, they recognized the one-year anniversary of the bombings, with messages from local and state dignitaries and survivors. One of them, dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, is now functioning on one good leg.
She broadened the day’s takeaway, saying, “Look around. People in your community need your support. They need your patience and they need your time. Let April 15 be a day when we all work together to make this world a better place.”
A year later, we ought to know that as sprawling and indefensible against terrorism as was a marathon, so might massive stadiums and arenas be vulnerable, places where hordes gather and security can seem like an annoyance amid the revelry.
And we know that terrorism, like school violence, seems to have no ceiling for ruthlessness.
And this, about Boston: Stronger, even than it might have believed.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org