Patriot’s Day is a special day in New England, particularly in Boston. The Boston Tea Party, Paul Rivere’s ride from Boston are all well known to anyone with even limited knowledge of the U.S. history. Fanueil Hall located in the center of Boston has been a marketplace and a meeting hall since 1742. It was the site of several speeches by Samuel Adams, James Otis, and others encouraging independence from Great Britain. Now it is part of Boston National Historical Park and a well-known stop on the Freedom Trail. It is sometimes referred to as “the Cradle of Liberty”.
Yesterday was the Patriot’s Day 2013. A magnificent day for the famous Boston marathon. There were over 26000 runners last year. It is very likely there were equal number if not more runners this year. The Kenyan runner won the women’s race. She received her Championship award and raised her cup up well above her head with a beautiful smile. Then there was the men’s winner from Ethiopia. The 117 year old Boston Marathon was proceeding as planned. An hour or so later, slowly hundreds of the slower runners were crawling past the finish line. No matter how long it takes, there is certain majesty and sense of accomplishment for these runners and a sense of awe and admiration from the rest of us, for these ordinary individuals who display extraordinary determination and perseverance in their practice, conditioning and yes, finally finishing the 26.2 mile race.
Everything seemed routine, impressive and orderly at the same time. Then there was the blast near the finish line and then there was second blast, about fifty or hundred yards away. Watching the grandeur of Boston marathon was shattered in an instant with a white cloud of smoke, followed by another. My immediate reaction was dismissive. With lots of electrical equipment and power supplies for the TV trucks lined up and the video cameras to cover every angle at the finish line, maybe there was an electrical fire? That was my instant reaction. But, two electrical fires in a row, one after the other?
Then there was panic everywhere. People running away from the scene. Close up view on TV screen of the spot where the explosion occurred showed way too much splatter of blood. Slowly it was becoming apparent that there were two bombs that had exploded. The bombs had killed three and the toll of injured kept climbing. The pictures of the rush of the EMTs and the first responders to care for the injured, the stream of ambulances rushing to the local area hospitals, the stories of heroism by many including the police and volunteers and the harrowing experiences of many close to the scene at the time of the explosions kept pouring in. The non-stop TV coverage slowly unfolded the details of a horrific experience. Terrorism and the horror it creates is no longer a far off event. I had witnessed a terrorist attack that took only 15 seconds, up close and nearby, in Boston, only 15 minutes away from my living room.
Who did this heinous act of terrorism? How did this happen? Why would anyone do this? How can anyone explain the death of those innocent people, an eight year old boy among them? What happens to the life of so many injured – now after nearly 36 hours the number climbing over 160 – with limbs lost or amputated and with severe injuries from shrapnel? The questions keep coming, along with them a deep sense of anguish and a relentless feeling of helplessness.
Then the nightfall and the sun rise next morning, as usual, as if nothing had changed. Yet everything has changed.
One can get engulfed in the inevitable grief such heinous acts of crime create. These events reinforce our fear of vulnerability and mortality. Life has indeed changed forever in a moment for those who lost their life, for those 180+ victims who are injured and recovering and the thousands of those related to them. Life has indeed changed for the millions of us, fellow citizens and the citizens of the world community.
After only a few days gone by, we have many answers. The speed and efficiency of the forces of law and order has been amazing. The cooperation by the citizens, the call by the civic leaders and the President to a larger common good is a refreshing rebuke to those few with anger and hate in their heart. While we mourn the loss of life and the suffering for the victims there is also a call to civic pride and rule of law and justice rendered as a result. The President spoke these words: “Our prayers are with the injured -— so many wounded, some gravely. From their beds, some are surely watching us gather here today. And if you are, know this: As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you. Your commonwealth is with you. Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again. You will run again.
Because that’s what the people of Boston are made of. Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act. If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that Deval [Patrick] described, the values that make us who we are, as Americans — well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston”. These are the words that ring true in the heart of every Bostonian. While I may not run a marathon, you can certainly see me walking the streets of Boston for the Annual 20 Mile walk for hunger, soon on May 5th. While our lives have been changed by this tragedy as they may, we are also changed for the better in many ways.
Following is another excerpt that truly relates to the marathon and the democratic way of life that is the aspiration of the many and unfortunately also the envy of the few. “Running the marathon is competing in the same event as the world’s greats, on the same day, facing the same obstacles before the same fans. The openness of the marathon – open to amateurs, open to spectators, free to watch and accessible to all ……The story goes it took its name from a battle won by the Athenians who had begun the world’s first great experiment in democracy. The marathon is still democratic. One must qualify for the Boston Marathon, but it is meritocratic, and it is populist. ……You don’t have turnstiles and you don’t have controlled access points to most points along the 26.2 miles of any course……the marathon has got 52.4 miles of sidewalks when you count both sides and it just can’t be screened…..There is a well-accepted notion that it is the very openness of a society that terrorists exploit and use against it. The marathon will now be put to the test; luckily, it is an event synonymous with endurance”. http://www.npr.org/2013/04/17/177566621/marathons-are-soft-targets
Let us embrace those who aspire to this way of life of an open and decent society. Let this openness and decency also bring others into fold, in the joy of collaboration and shared prosperity, rather than isolation and anger.