It’s hard to imagine an act of violence, terror, or anything else of the sort changing the entire world as roundly as 9/11 did. No matter the venue, fewer items are permitted, lines are longer, and everyone’s a bit more paranoid than ever before.
A prime example came last week when attending my first Yankees game. Throngs of people who’d already paid for tickets—or, just as likely, received them through work—lined up to enter the stadium as if they were receiving free tickets for the entire season. It took at least 20 minutes to get through the line, at which point we were frisked, asked what’s in our pockets, and instructed to prove that our cell phones were on. This was new to me, as I assumed it was to prevent bad guys from sneaking in bombs that look like cell phones. The facts that this advanced practice exists and the concept of bomb diffusion is what immediately came to mind further reinforce how the world’s changed, nowhere as glaringly as the city where it happened.
The City of Boston is part of that changed world and has undoubtedly adopted many of the newer security measures in the appropriate public places. One place that never really needed security, though, was along a 26.2 mile route from Hopkinton to Boston. Even if you tried, how the hell do you secure an entire marathon route? Sure, there are cops everywhere, but there are hundreds of thousands of people that line up across eight towns to watch the race. It’s impossible to police everything.
Luckily, before last year, nothing had ever gone too awry. Outside the rare athlete death (which are tragic, and while occasional during marathons, less so during Boston), the biggest fear was another Rosie Ruiz situation.
And then, last year on this day, April 15, two loathsome, subhuman mongrels set off a couple bombs near the finish line, immediately killing three and injuring over 260 others. The world may never change as much again in one fell swoop as it did on 9/11, but the City of Boston, independently, has undergone its own metamorphosis over the past 365 days.
The standard responses were put into place. Heightened security. Increased vigilance. Everyone has their guard up more than usual. The reminders are constant, whether in the form of the Red Sox placing the World Series trophy on the finish line, Boston media outlets reporting heartfelt stories on the victims, or the legal proceedings involving a detestable former college student rotting in a cell.
On April 21, the 2014 Boston Marathon will be run, and it will serve as the greatest reminder of all. It’ll be a day of celebration, commemoration, and triumph. We’re still here, we’re still fighting, and we’ll be back. But it’ll also be a reminder of the cowards who killed four people in total and caused some major damage—every kind imaginable—to Boston and its citizens.
And as I wrote last year, they turned a sacred event full of determination, happiness, and community into one of mourning and remembrance. A year later, I’m still pissed that our event, our day, will forever be marred by what happened in 2013 and instead of being another Marathon, it’ll also be some number anniversary of the attack. It’s important and necessary to grieve, to heal, to memorialize. But I hope I see the day when it goes back to just being the Boston Marathon, the great Patriots’ Day tradition, rather than the anniversary of an unspeakable tragedy.
It won’t happen this year, or next, and certainly not in 2023. Someday though, we’ll have healed to the point where 4/15/13 is a footnote rather than a headline. It’s not about skipping the stages of grief and rushing towards acceptance, rather, it’s about yearning for the day when we’re finally there.
After last year, the chorus echoed from Caribou to Dorchester to Trumbull and all around the country. Hell, the president traveled to Boston to lead the choir. “We’ll be back next year, and we’ll be stronger than ever. We’re doing 2014 even bigger and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.”
It was a powerful rallying cry, one I believe is true in various ways. I’m positive there’ll be a near-record number of supporters lining the route. I’m positive the the BAA will have all it can handle in the way of athlete registration pushing the limits. There’s no doubt this year’s race will be a bigger deal for everyone in the area, as it very well should be.
Still, it’ll be a different experience than it was before, and that’s a shame. I don’t live in Boston and assumed I wouldn’t make it to the 2014 race. From afar, it was easy to repeat the “bigger, better, stronger” mantra, because I never really placed myself in the setting. Also, because I can be a stubborn, hardheaded Bostonian.
Today, however, I found out that I may in fact be going to the Boston Marathon in six days. And to be completely honest, I rethought my tough guy stance a little bit. I’ll still go, but I’d be lying if I said I’ll have no fear, even though there’s every reason to believe the Marathon will be safe and secure, with local, state, and federal authorities on duty. Maybe instead of having fear I’ll feel vulnerable, knowing that, despite the increased law enforcement presence, we’re all essentially naked out there.
That’s the risk we run, though, by coming back bigger, better, stronger. We’re giving the finger to the bad guys and trusting that the most sacred event in the city will be restored to its previously implicit lawfulness.
If all goes according to plan, this will be my first Marathon since I was half my current age. But it won’t be like it was back then, gathering with my family by the Wellesley Police Department, settling in for a couple hours of spectating and cheering. It’ll hopefully be with friends, enjoying a few drinks and lining the streets of Boston to watch the runners accomplish a feat of sport that’s unlike any other. Funny thing is, had last year not happened, that childlike innocence would still be intact. That was taken from us last year, but if it hadn’t been, I swear to you, I’d still have that giddy, energized, indescribable feeling that I always had when I was a kid. That’s just the kind of events that the Boston Marathon, and Patriots’ Day as a whole, always were. As we move on through the stages of grief and summon our strength to finally reach acceptance, that’s the way the Boston Marathon can someday be again.