Writers Reflect On The Boston Marathon
As celebration turned into chaos and then eerie stillness, these writers found the words to describe what we’re feeling.
In the day since the bombs exploded on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, many stories have been filed about the bombings. Here are some of the ones worth reading:
The Marathon was the old, drunk uncle of Boston sports, the last of the true festival events. Every other one of our major sporting rodeos is locked down, and tightened up, and Fail-Safed until the Super Bowl now is little more than NORAD with bad rock music and offensive tackles. You can’t do that to the Marathon. There was no way to do it. There was no way to lock down, or tighten up, or Fail-Safe into Security Theater a race that covers 26.2 miles, a race that travels from town to town, a race that travels past people’s houses. There was no way to garrison the Boston Marathon. Now there will be. Someone will find a way to do it. And I do not know what the race will be now. I literally haven’t the vaguest clue.
It would be wrong and a cliche to say we lost our innocence on Monday afternoon as a plume of white smoke drifted high above Boylston Street, as blood pooled on the sidewalk across from the Boston Public Library, as severed limbs lay amid the bruised and the bloodied and the stunned, their ears ringing, their ears bleeding.
I have been watching and listening to nothing but coverage of the Boston Marathon since that moment. Eight hours, nine, now 10 have passed. I am home. The first bomb explodes and everyone is in shock and then the second bomb explodes and three are dead at last count and 100 or so are injured and then the footage is shown from a different angle and then another one. The mayor and the governor and the President of the United States all have spoken and interview follows interview and there is a sadness that does not go away.
Hours after the explosions, when I was finally able to leave the Fairmont, I walked through an urban landscape that changed dramatically from block to block. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was a movie set, floodlit in some places by whirling squad car and fire engine lights.
The bombs went off a little before 3 p.m. That’s when the people you know were finishing. The students and the moms and dads and the people who decided to do something special one time in their life. The ones who raised money for their causes and trained through the snowy morning jogs just to prove something to themselves or the people they love. Maybe you’ve even done it yourself, or you make a vow to be out there next year. This is our day to be human again after staying inside through the brutally long winter.
But as clear as it is where my loyalties lay, I think this is important too: It’s not that Bostonians have something that makes them uniquely capable of dealing with this. It’s that people do. It’s just that Bostonians are being called upon to show it now. We’ve seen this again and again in the face of unthinkable tragedy, be it an act of nature or an atrocity perpetrated by the stupid and the cruel. And while there is a tendency to look at this horror and think people are fking horrible, it’s important to remember that they’re not, on the whole. Evil lay dormant in the human character, and a few give themselves over to it, but on the whole, good will out. And if we aspire to the good—and things like what happened in Boston help us do so—then that balance will remain favorably tipped.
But Boston was different too; the bombs seemed designed more for the masses than the monumental. The explosions went off well after the small crowd of elite runners had crossed the finish line. (Last year’s average time was 4:18:27.) The thick stream of recreational runners—-regular folk who would never have a shot at the Olympics—was flowing in then, and mothers and brothers and lovers and kids were waiting at the end to cheer them on. Just to run in the Boston Marathon, for them, was the moment of a lifetime.
But the Marathon? Our Marathon? It has a decidedly international flavor these days, but somehow it still felt insulated and innocent, like a big block party to celebrate the start of spring. I have been to the starting line, the finish line and a few points in between. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fight. The closest thing we’ve witnessed to treachery was Rosie Ruiz’ shortcut. It has its share of drunken college kids, but from Hopkinton to Copley, it always was a fun and friendly take for families with young kids.
And now what? Sad to say, the party is over. The Super Bowl has never been hit by terrorists, but the Marathon has. Our Marathon. More than a hundred injured. At least three dead. An 8-year-old murdered, according to reports. God help us.
And, that is the saddest, most bottomed out feeling. It may not be me among those who lost their lives or limbs or my loved ones (you realize you love them all, really, on days like this), but it’s someone’s someone. It always is. It’s a hollowed out feeling that on the other side of moments when a B.A.A. volunteer directing runners across the finish is saying, “You’re all winners.” There are times of profound darkness, seconds later, when all of us lose.