The bell of Boston’s Old South Church tolled mournfully today at exactly 2:49 p.m. , commemorating the exact time one year ago that the first of two bombs went off at the Boylston Street finish of the Boston Marathon. As thousands gathered for what was billed as a Tribute, pewter-gray skies opened in memory of the four dead and hundreds injured. Even so, a continuing sense of recovery suffused the crowd lining the roadway, some who had returned for the first time since April 15, 2013.
It was a somber day of remembrance coming just six days before the 118th running of the grand old race. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, along with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and ex-mayor Tom Menino gave moving addresses, along with BAA executive race director Tom Grilk and four of the recovering victims of the bombing.
But if such a tragedy was fated to happen, perhaps it was best that it happened at the Boston Marathon. For no other event, sporting or otherwise, stands so close to the nexus of community, dedication, humanity and fraternity. No event seems so equipped to withstand such adversity, then have within it the capacity to turn around and summon the resolve to carry on even stronger than before.
Patriot’s Day might only be a regional holiday in Massachusetts, but its meaning lies at the bedrock of the American consciousness. So, too, the marathon, an event stripped of skill, rooted instead in effort and fortitude, is the sporting metaphor for what it means to go beyond limits previously unknown.
Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick said it well when he declared, “there are no strangers here,” during his remarks. “We are all connected to a common destiny. We share the same hopes, dreams and continuity. In the end we are one community.”
The heinous act of two Chechnyan brothers led to the death of four, the wounding of 260 more, and the irrevocable alteration of a deeply loved and cherished event. The level of commemoration would be difficult to constrain in any case, so grievous were the wounds to the life-affirming event and the its historic host city. At the same time, this year’s marathon will see security upped like never before. 1500 police will patrol the finish area alone, and no one will be allowed to cross from one side of the course to the other throughout the entire 26.2 mile layout.
The days of the unfenced open marathon are long gone. Everyone, everything is seen as a potential risk. The isolation of the modern technological society has stripped us of an innocence we could never truly appreciate until we realized it was gone.
“The cowardly terrorists try to instill fear,” said Vice President Biden, “so we will jettison what we hold close, freedom of access, the willingness to gather anywhere in any number. Their intent is to make America afraid, so maybe we begin to change our ways, the soul of who we are. But we have never yielded to fear. We will never yield, we will never cower, we will never stand down. We are America, and we own the finish line!”
Since 9-11-2001 America has been tested. She will be again. And while the countless acts of courage witnessed in the aftermath of 4-15-13 remind us that America remains “the home of the brave”, with a police presence numbering in the thousands, 50 observation posts arrayed around the finish line, and more than 100 cameras watching over the Boston stretch of the marathon route, alone, could it be that the wickedness of two callous brothers from far away has taken us a step toward Big Brother, and away from “the land of the free”? Let us hope not. END