My emotions are tangled in so many complex corners of grasping what happened, and why it evokes such raw pathos for me. I don't think I will be able to break them all down. I can't yet put to words my feelings about the coward or cowards who executed this tragedy; I can't yet put to words my feelings about the victims; I can't yet put to words my feelings for the unsung heroes we keep seeing and reading about; I can't yet put to words my feelings about my fears regarding this strange and fragile new world into which I brought my innocent nine-month old daughter; I can't yet even find words for my feelings about bravery, pain, sorrow. There certainly aren't words for the empty, violent hole that formed instantly in my belly as I started seeing "Prayers for Boston" and similar vague posts appear on my Facebook and Twitter feeds yesterday before I began to understand that something had happened. In my Boston? Every new incident of tragedy we continue to experience as a community, a country, a world shakes me to the core. But the nausea that accompanied my uncovering of what happened yesterday was different. My Boston.
The Boston Marathon represents everything that is great about sport. Its history and symbolism in the world of international running go without saying, I think. And what Boston means to runners, especially marathoners (neither of which I can claim to be, though I *can* run...), is BIG. It's more than raising money or winning a lottery bib. It's The Accomplishment. It's the feather in your running cap. It's The Goal. You qualified. You are fast. You are a Runner with a capital 'R.'
But the Boston Marathon represents something else entirely more than that for those of us who will always call Massachusetts (and Boston) home, even if we no longer actually live there. There is an energy of childhood for even the oldest Massachusetts-bred spectator each year, whether standing on the sidelines directly, or virtually, thanks to television and the Internet. There is a giddy, pure, joy - there just is. It's corny to almost any non-New Englander/non-Massachusetts-er. My husband, a Chicagoan who lived in Boston for several years, will attest to that. As exciting as the race can be for anyone, he just never wholly understood why I woke up early to bring our kitchen chairs down to the empty sidewalk to save a a perfect spot outside the door of our Hereford Street apartment for my father's and my viewing, on the last block before the turn to the Boylston finish. He certainly couldn't understand why my father would wake up at the crack of dawn to drive two hours east to sit in rain or intense heat or other weather all day with me and cheer on the runners as though each of them was our dearest relative.
The Boston Marathon is an institution. It's a holiday. It's a party. It's in the fabric of Boston's great, boisterous, unflappable personality. It is my childhood, and it evokes something in me that almost nothing else does (except some other Boston icons like the Citgo sign or a shot of the State House in a movie, or the first glimpse of the Pru from a tiny airplane window...). Again, my husband appreciates but doesn't understand why a segment on the local news on Patriot's Day each year (it's still Patriot's Day to me, even if my new state doesn't know that) in the seven since we left Boston simultaneously brings an enormous grin to my face and tears to my eyes. But it does. The same way a great Boston accent conjures a family member and just warms me right to the soul.
In sixth grade, my class made news state-wide as we trained for months to walk the Marathon as a group. On Marathon Monday 1992, we left Hopkinton hours before the runners so that we could high-five them from our lunch break along the route. News crews followed and interviewed us. I wore boxer shorts with runners on them (over spandex shorts -- how very 1992 of me!) as my "uniform." The excitement of that incredible weekend in many ways has never left me. I can feel my thrill right now if I close my eyes to see my 12-year old self crossing that iconic, beautiful finish line, holding hands with my best friends as we sang the Chariots of Fire music and slow-motion ran over the painted stripe on Boylston Street. I can think of little else from my childhood to compare to that extraordinary experience, but, I guess it speaks to some of that "something entirely else" that the Great Boston Marathon is to me and to Boston and to Massachusetts, to home.
Yesterday morning my father fulfilled one of a number of nostalgic dreams he's long talked about by riding his bike with two friends along the Marathon route into Boston, and then back out against the runner traffic to watch the race among the community of the spectator supporters out in the suburbs before heading home. (For the record, my dad is probably one of the Boston Marathon's greatest fans ever.) Here's the photo he sent to my brother and me a few hours before this day took the terrible turn that it did:
|(that's Dad on the right in neon, with his buddy Bill; their other buddy, Bob, is behind the camera)|
Eerie and haunting now, but this photo captures that untainted joy of Marathon Monday to which so many can relate. And even in my confusion and my sadness and my anger and, again, my simply deep, deep heartbreak, I love that that untainted joy is forever captured here.
Love that dirty water.