- Posted April 26, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
Believing Boston Strong: My Account of the Boston Marathon
After the deadly tragedy that occurred at last year’s Boston Marathon, a single phrase —“Boston Strong”—captured the reaction of the City.
That spirit was one of the reasons I decided to run Boston this year. I wanted to be part of the restoration.
Last week as I thought about my upcoming travel I came across a well-written opinion piece arguing that street vendors, commercial advertisers, politicians, and others had overused the phrase for their own gain. Hijacked by hypocrites, it had lost its meaning.
Arriving at the Boston Airport for the Marathon and driving across the city, I saw plenty of evidence to support the writer’s cynicism. “Boston Strong” was everywhere: caps, T-shirts, billboards, and banners on the sides of buildings.
“Ah yes,” I thought with the superiority of the jaded observer’s perspective, “overused.”
The next day a single event caused a major crack in the safe shell of my doubting frame of reference. We walked down Boyleston Street to view the finish line. I couldn’t help but notice the locations where the bombs had gone off. Soon we stood in front of the makeshift memorial where four people lost their lives and many others were grievously injured. Somehow, in the midst of all the confusing noise of the crowded street, there was a reverent silence at the memorial. Being there—visualizing what we’d seen in pictures and videos—it became somberly real. People were killed here. Others were permanently maimed and scarred. Senseless violence. Of course, it had to change how the people of Boston thought about their world and themselves.
More cracks developed as I considered the spontaneous comments by individuals at the small café where we had breakfast that morning. “Are you here to run the Marathon?” Receiving affirmation of our intent, we repeatedly heard: “Thank you.”
After breakfast we went to Easter Services in a small, 150-year-old church. Again, individual “thank you’s” were repeatedly stated as people learned we had come to run the Marathon. We were even marched to the front of the church to receive corporate “thank you’s” and good wishes.
The ever-present volunteers, law enforcement, and military personnel were equally gracious and appreciative. Again and again, “Thank you for being here.”
Our hosts added further confirmation. Failing to find a hotel at a reasonable price, we reluctantly agreed to accept the awkwardness of staying at the home of people we’d never even met—someone a friend knew. Who invites five strange men into their house for a weekend? And, who then treats them with extraordinary hospitality? Answer: people eager to make a statement about themselves and their
All doubt was removed on the course. I’ve run Boston twice before so I was expecting the enthusiastic, continuous crowd (think of a destination 26 miles from your home and wrap your mind around the concept of cheering people lining the streets between those two locations). This year was different. It was the Boston Marathon Crowd on steroids. Many more people. Much more noise.
The enthusiasm of the crowd was defiant in nature.
No one was going to stop them. This was their city and their event. They were there to claim their identity. They were making noise. And, they were looking for excuses to make more noise.
The sound of the crowd was like the roar of a jet engine. And, when given cause, the crescendo of the roar swelled. At one point I ran past Dick Hoyt, the man who has pushed his son through multiple marathons. As the crowd along the road became aware of who he was, they cut loose. Running past Dick and his son was like running through a bubble of hyper sound.
I had printed my name on the front of my shirt. Boston crowds are great at calling out your name with words of encouragement. It is a wonderful way to get needed motivation as the miles pound on the spirit. This year it was almost too much. At first I yelled back or pumped my fist as people enthusiastically encouraged me by name. By mile 17 my response had become a simple “thumbs up.” The last few miles I stuck to the center of the road with my eyes straight ahead. I had simply run out of energy to acknowledge the personal cheers.
Causes for inspiration abounded. There were multiple blind runners circled by others who guided and protected them. The same was true for an autistic runner. And, then there were the runners gliding along on one or two curved pieces of carbon fiber—including several who lost their legs at the event just a year ago.
Riding the subway after the Marathon, a young couple sat across from us. Again, we were thanked for being there. Congratulations followed. Then, a personal question strangers do not usually ask each other came:“Were you afraid?”
“No, not really.” After all there were law enforcement and military personnel stationed everywhere along the course. And, they were clearly on full alert. It seemed there were always several police helicopters hovering overhead and four large and intimidating National Guard Helicopters regularly swept the course. Even an irrational person would have to sense this would be the wrong time and place to perpetrate evil.
Then a confession came from the strangers. “We were afraid to come.” “We thought the larger the crowd the more tempting it would be.” And then, “We came because we thought it was our responsibility.”
Ah, the beauty of intentional behavior.
And, the beauty of believing.
What is good and true is not diminished by misapplication.
It remains good and true.
Boston is Strong.