I had just hung up with my uncle, whose son works as a manager at a hotel across the street from one of the explosions, when my friend’s text came in: “It’s our hometown. It’s our race.”
That’s not technically true. We both grew up in the suburbs, and neither of us has lived in Massachusetts for a decade. Nor were we ever full-fledged residents of the city – just college kids at BU (and for a few months after that, unemployed BU grads). But for the first 22 years of our lives – the 22 years that shaped us into who and what we are today – our world revolved around Boston. And many of the people and many of the memories that mean the most to us are still there. The farther our lives have taken us from it, the more it’s come to feel like home.
So as I processed the horrifying images and read the chilling and heartbreaking accounts, there was an added rawness to my grief, an extra intensity to my rage. I knew exactly what my friend meant. I felt like punching something. I wanted to know who did it, and for them to pay. I wanted to be the one who made them pay.
That it was Patriots’ Day somehow made it feel worse. Boston is both a world-class city, home to some of the best academic and medical institutions on the planet, and a quirkily parochial place, where one of the biggest annual sporting events involves college hockey players competing for a beanpot and where generations of baseball fans actively believed they were victims of a curse. Patriots’ Day is the essence of Boston, a Massachusetts-only holiday that seems like it was invented to celebrate Boston. The finest runners in the world are joined by thousands of local amateurs for the marathon. The Red Sox play an annual game at 11:15 in the morning. Schools are closed, bars are open. The streets are filled with people who are just a little friendlier, just a little warmer than usual, as if they’re contemplating how lucky they are to be in the one city in America where it’s not just another workday.
New York, a veteran harrier once told me, is a runner’s marathon, while Boston is a people’s race. I figured out what he meant my junior year at BU, when I became one of those jerks who jump in somewhere between Hopkinton and Copley Square. My whole life, I’d watched the race as a spectator, on TV, in the crowd at the finishing line and the starting line, from the window of my dorm room on Commonwealth Avenue. What I wanted was to experience it as a runner does. So I snuck in somewhere after Heartbreak Hill and joined a pack of men and women who could easily have been my neighbors from growing up.
We crossed over the Turnpike on Beacon Street and made our way down into Kenmore Square. It was like the whole world was crammed together there – college kids, friends and family of runners, tourists, Red Sox fans who’d just left Fenway, all of them cheering and chanting, calling out encouragement to random runners they’d never met before and would never see again. I could feel the energy pick up around me. And I could understand the crowd’s zeal. Running 26 miles is a feat that demands respect, no matter how long it takes. And these weren’t elite athletes passing by. In a way, the crowd was cheering for itself. That last mile was magical to witness. On the other side of the finish line, more than one runner talked about feeling carried by the crowd for the final mile. I felt guilty for stealing even a sliver of anyone’s spotlight, and never even thought of jumping in the race again.
Between texts and calls to friends and family, I lived on Twitter Monday afternoon, clicking on every link with new information and retweeting anything that seemed useful. It was Twitter at its best. It was also Twitter at its worst, a combination of tasteless tweets from the usual suspects and self-satisfied policing, as if what really mattered was who was saying what on social media. I had no patience for it, or for the speculation about who might have done it and why, or for anyone trying to wring some kind of deeper political or philosophical meaning from any of it. In every picture, I saw home. In every face, I saw an old friend or classmate or teacher colleague or neighbor. We’ll find out who did this, hopefully soon, and part of me is trying to imagine a punishment harsh enough to fit this crime. The rest of me just wants to cry.