Boston, Ma. — When the two bombs tore through the jubilant crowds lining the finish line of today’s 117th Boston Marathon it did more than halt the race in its tracks, leaving nearly 4500 runners between 40K and the finish unable to complete their Boston experience. It turned the world on its head.
At 2:50 p.m. what had moments before been an ongoing celebration of the human spirit instantly transformed into a chaotic reflection of man’s darkest impulse. What had been moving testimony to the best in man became instead a shocking indictment against the evil that has festered in far too many hearts in far too many places for far too long a time. Now the roll call of communities which share the sad distinction of being targets of terror includes Boston, the cradle of American freedom. And, yes, it happened on Patriot’s Day at that, a day commemorating what it means for a community to come together and say to the world ‘for this we will fight’, ‘for this we will stand as one for all to see.’
This oldest most iconic of all marathons, what many call the People’s Olympics due to the difficult qualifying standards required to enter – standards that were tightened across all age groups this year by five minutes – is among the most celebrated sporting events in the world. Historically, there have been more media requests for accreditation for the Boston Marathon than for any one-day sporting event outside the Super Bowl. And though the world of media has changed drastically in the last decade, that statistic still gives ample evidence of the importance of this special event. For someone or a group of people to attack such a pristine celebration of our common humanity is more than a tragedy, it is a sacrilege.
Runners from around the world and all 50 states took part in today’s race from the tiny town of Hopkinton to Boston’s bustling Back Bay, led by race winners Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya. Now those champions, for all their worthy excellence, and thousands more who followed them across the finish line, are no more than asterisks on a day such as April 15, 2013. The wonder that is Joan Benoit Samuelson, the former two-time Boston champion who celebrated the 30th anniversary of her 1983 2:22:43 world record by setting a 55 year-old age group world record (2:50:29), is a now a forgotten factoid rather than a magnificent reminder of the heights to which we can take the precious gift of life that at least two people lost in the smoke strewn aftermath of this unholy act.
But if any community can come back from such an unspeakable, obscene attack, it is the marathon community, whether here in Boston or next week in London, or in any of the other hundreds of cities which stage these celebrations of life, health, and human solidarity. For as it has been said, once you don your race gear all that we don’t have in common, be it culture, religion, politics or financial station, all such distinctions are stripped away as the sport transcends any and all such differences to link us in our common humanity. That is the true beauty of the sport.
At its heart the marathon is a self-augering tool, digging deep to reveal the true character of a person. The accomplishment of qualifying for then finishing the Boston Marathon cannot be bought or given, it can only be earned through unremitting months of dedicated preparation and racing will.
This violation of that spirit, in all its cowardly cynicism and wickedness, will leave its mark on the city and the marathon for all time, a brutish scar reminding us of man’s incivility, and our capacity to embrace hatred and fear as well as love and light. But it will not halt the spirit that drives millions of people from every culture to explore what it means to be human at its most basic level, and then to express that spirit in communion with one another. Just as New York will once again celebrate its marathon after Hurricane Sandy, so, too, will Boston and its marathon live on after this. Not just live, but endure and thrive. That road will never end, that spirit will never succumb.