The Spirit of Boston

marathon memorialThe neighborhood where I work is now a crime scene.

I wasn’t even in the city on Monday because our office is so close to the finish line of the marathon that the company gives us the day off. I’ve walked the stretch of Boylston Street, where the bombs went off, countless times. I’ve shopped in many of the stores where the windows now lay shattered on the sidewalk.

Patriots’ Day is a holiday in Massachusetts; a commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord at the start of the Revolutionary War. Also known as Marathon Monday, it is one of the happiest days of the year in Boston. It is the start of the spring vacation week; the Red Sox play a morning game every year; and street parking, if you can find it, is free.

It is the day our city, too often overshadowed by our neighbors in New York, plays host to thousands of elite runners from over 90 countries all over the world. Our Boston Marathon is the race that long-distance runners strive to qualify for, and struggle to finish. It is the day the world-class city we know Boston to be has its moment on the global stage.

And now we join the ranks of so many other cities of the world in a way that we never imagined. We have been hit by terrorism of as yet unknown origin. Over 150 people have been injured; several with devastating amputations; three people are dead including an eight-year-old boy. The landscape of our beautiful day has been marred with an angry slash across the canvas.

Now, the city is moving in slow motion. People are quiet but determined. We’re a little bit more patient today. Strangers regard each other with a shared sense of experience. Bags are being searched in the subway stations. The T drivers are asking for extra vigilance. Police an National Guard troops are everywhere. There are military vehicles in the streets. “Surreal” is the word I hear over and over.

Outside my office, a handsome Deutsche Welle reporter stands in front of the barricades and gives an on-camera update in German. Around the corner, a Japanese reporter does the same in her language. The streets outside the barriers are lined with media trucks. We are the focus of international attention in a way we never wanted to be. There is so much speculation. Everyone is reporting, tweeting, blogging, but no one really knows anything. The authorities are being extraordinarily cautious with their information. The number of devices; the methods of detonation; the identification of a suspect; have all been, at different times, both confirmed and denied. We all want to know everything. No one knows anything.

The overarching image of Monday’s attack is of the people rushing in to help. Some of the helpers have been profiled in the media, most have not. There is a collective sense of exhaustion, but we are not paralyzed with fear or motivated by anger. The focus is on cleaning up, caring for each other, and moving on. Justice will happen in time. Sure, we want answers, but we know that the steady stream of conspiracy theorists looking to make a buck off our tragedy are not helping the city or the country. Most of us trust the investigators and approve of their caution.

From the days of the Revolutionary War, so much of Boston’s pride has been born of adversity. Today’s Bostonians will continue in that vein, grateful for the support and sensitivity from other cities and countries. At a time when we normally celebrate thousands of runners facing perhaps the greatest challenge of their lives, we are faced with enormous challenges of our own. We know that the days ahead will be hard; we may struggle with patience, perseverance, and tolerance, but we will look out for each other, and our visitors. Next year, the Marathon will be even bigger. It will be run by many in honor of those who died or were wounded; in honor of the doctors who performed hours of emergency surgeries to help the injured; in honor of the first responders. It will be run in keeping with the spirit of Boston. Revolutionary in so many ways.

Melissa Tingley is a writer, instructional designer, and ten-year veteran of her local school board. A history and political junkie, she showcases the stories behind heirloom objects at her new blog has published a list of ways to help those in Boston, if you are so inclined.

Image courtesy Melissa Tingley. All rights reserved

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