Most people probably assume that St. Patrick’s Day is the greatest, most celebrated day of the year in Boston. March 17th—and the ensuing Sunday parade—are certainly Boston staples, but that holiday is purely celebratory in nature, with the true meaning carrying more weight in Ireland. That’s why, without question, Patriots’ Day is the greatest, most celebrated day of the year in Boston. St. Patty’s Day is Ireland. Patriots’ Day is Boston. The third Monday in April is part history, part festivity, and it’s what puts the holiday over the top. Many of the city’s businesses shut down. The fine people of Lexington and Concord hold fun re-enactments of the events of April 19, 1775. The Red Sox play at 11am. The Bruins and/or Celtics usually have a playoff game, one of which is usually home. And, of course, there’s the crown jewel of Patriots’ Day: The Boston Marathon.
Between being at college and living in LA, I can’t even remember the last time I was in Massachusetts for the holiday. Has to be 2006 when I was a senior in high school. But the thought of the day still makes me giddy. I listened to the first inning of the Red Sox game in the shower this morning. As my TVM colleague Garry Rosenfield mentioned in his excellent post earlier, I left him a voice mail on the way to work, wishing him a Happy Patriots’ Day. Even 3,000 miles away, I feel like I’m there. Sitting behind a desk all day, I try my hardest to envision being in the Back Bay, with friends, taking in the scene on the greatest day of the year in Boston.
And then, this afternoon, in the span of a few short, tragic seconds, this became the worst Patriots’ Day we’ve ever had. By far. As in, really the only time it’s ever been a bad holiday. And ‘bad’ is a generalization here, because the more specific adjectives carry a greater degree of force. Horrific. Unspeakable. Traumatizing. Unfathomable. All of the above. The day became sad, heartbreaking, and uncomfortable, and likely changed the way we’ll view Patriots’ Day for the foreseeable future.
The day went from having a strong start to refrains of “Stay Strong.” When two bombs went off at the finish line at about 2:45pm EST, the innocence of Patriots’ Day—not the city or the people in general, but the holiday specifically—was taken, and the rest of the country was reminded what kind of world we live in. A holiday created to celebrate April 19th, 1775, quickly started looking more like March 5th, 1770. There’s a marker in the road commemorating where the Boston Massacre took place. And while there will likely be makeshift memorials in the interim and maybe even a permanent memorial in the long term, the blood splattered streets of Boston’s Back Bay will serve as far more powerful imagery than that marker on State Street.
People I know were there. And, why wouldn’t they have been? No work, nice day, marathon’s running…why not go and check out the finish line? That’s what Bostonians do on Patriots’ Day: they go out and show pride in their city, and there are few better ways than going to the finish line and supporting those who have trekked 26.2 miles from Hopkinton. I have multiple friends who saw it happen and were thankfully okay. A couple of them, in their attempt to escape the danger zone, were herded in with marathoners who were stopped after 25 miles. One was temporarily unable to call her parents and tell them she was okay because the cell phone reception become so spotty, and was even shut off completely at one point. New Yorkers have their stories about the people they knew in and around the towers. Now, albeit on a smaller scale, Bostonians have theirs.
That’s what makes me so uncomfortable with everything today. I’m sad, upset, and distraught. I still can’t believe it happened in my home city and it’s bothering the hell out of me. I’m angry. And I’m uncomfortable, because this isn’t us. This isn’t Boston. I’m in denial that this is becoming us because of what happened today. In regards to “this,” I’m talking about what a major story it’s become worldwide. Every newspaper in the UK carried the story on their front page, using some combination of the words Boston, marathon, carnage, murder, and massacre. That shouldn’t be us. Boston’s too tough to have others point out its weaknesses. We’re not a charity case, begging for people to read and weep for us. The whole thing is making me nauseous. This city has never, and should never be in need. While it’s imperative that the story be told, part of me wants to snatch the newspapers out of readers’ hands so they won’t see my city the way it was today. Because that’s not us.
By nature, I’m uncomfortable with people doing nice things for me. Maybe that’s me, maybe it’s an effect of the city I grew up near. Buildings in New York tonight were illuminated with “NY ❤ B.” I accept and appreciate the sentiment, and I love New York as much as any Bostonian can, but tonight, I’m having a hard time accepting the sympathy. That sounds crass and I don’t mean it to be, but I’m just not comfortable being the little guy that needs people praying for him. Fans in Oakland tonight, rather than chanting “Let’s go Oakland,” instead chanted “Let’s go Boston.” I think that’s very cool and very respectful, but I’m having trouble dealing with the fact that those heartfelt chants had to be devised only because someone got the best of my city. I’m angry. And like I said, I’m in denial. I’m in denial that we need these prayers and good will. Deep down I know we do—no matter how tough we think we are, the city and its people are only human—I’m just having an impossible time welcoming it. I keep telling myself we’re not like 9/11, or the Olympic Village in Atlanta, or Oklahoma City. Casualty-wise, in relation to those tragedies, we’re thankfully not on the same level. But we’re starting to get lumped in with them in terms of newsworthiness, imagery, psychological damage, and potential long term effect. It’s inevitable, and accurate, and it’s really bugging me.
It’s really not possible to elaborate in how many ways, again, beyond the obvious, this rankles inside me. To be clear, today is about the victims and their families. But writer’s who are paid to write, who are far more eloquent and thoughtful than I am, will tell those stories, better than I ever could. So please forgive the following anecdotes, which are here purely to convey the importance and meaning that this day and this marathon carry around the city, and how that’s been stripped away.
Until I was 14 years old, I went to the marathon every year. Seriously, it was the one sporting event my family went to every year. We’d go to the same spot, by the Wellesley Police Station, every single year. My family, my cousins’ family, and some other extended family members. These are people we wouldn’t even see on Thanksgiving, Passover, or any other major US or Jewish holiday. But we saw them every year for the Boston Marathon. My cousin’s grandfather always had his transistor radio and would update us on who was leading, which contributed to his nickname being “Poindexter.” We’d bring sandwiches, have a makeshift picnic on the side of the road, and watch the runners go by. My parents, who have never run a mile in their lives, would get so excited talking about three-time men’s champion Cosmas Ndeti, who named his son Boston after the race that changed his life. They got even more excited talking about three-time women’s champion Uta Pippig, and marveled at the fact that she won her third consecutive Boston in 1996 while covered in her own feces, falling victim to diarrhea midway through the race.
In high school, I suddenly became a runner. I ended up running cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track every year of high school. I was a running freak, memorizing names, times, and enveloping myself in the running community. My cross country team would take 7am bus rides on Saturdays to the Newton hills and we’d run Heartbreak Hill as a practice workout. The course has a social meaning as well: my high school prom was held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, which is where the race medical tent sets up, one block from the finish line on Boylston Street. So, yeah, the Boston Marathon is a pretty personal thing for me. And now, for the rest of my lifetime, all people are going to talk about is the bombings. The greatest race in the world is now ruined. As is the greatest holiday in one of the greatest cities on earth. The Boston Marathon and Patriots’ Day have a permanent black mark, and there’s nothing any of us could have done about it.
In today’s sick twist of deranged irony, an event to celebrate who could move their legs the fastest was marred when some people lost the ability to simply use their legs. It’s still sickening to think about, and I’m not going to be able to accept it for some time. I refuse to believe that this happened at the marathon. At my city’s marathon. The oldest continually run marathon in the world. The greatest marathon on earth. On Patriots’ Day. Every time I type the word “bomb” I feel like I’m going to vomit. I had trouble making it through the work day today, and I don’t see it getting any easier tomorrow.
Most people don’t realize this, but Patriots’ Day also celebrates Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. It was Revere, along with William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, who rode from Boston to Lexington and Concord to warn his countrymen of the impending British arrival. Revere’s foresight enabled the Massachusetts militia to be on alert when it was time to battle. On Monday night, a young outfielder named Ben Revere of the Philadelphia Phillies inscribed “Pray For Boston” in his glove. During the game, he made a highlight-reel catch that stands as the catch of the year in this young season. Think about it: A young man named Revere moves in the night to create some positive energy and put his team in a position to win. It’s a stretch, but I’ll count it as poetic justice. And on a day like today, I’ll grasp on to anything I can that will make me feel even the slightest bit better.