I celebrated four Marathon Mondays in my four years at Boston College, and they were among the four greatest days of my entire college life.
It’s not just the celebration of such impressive athleticism from so many diverse people. It’s not all the good spirit resulting from the thousands of causes those thousands of runners support. It’s not just the sound of deafening cheering from every direction you turn or the fact that the kegs of Sam Adams flow from the crack of dawn on.
It’s that Boston is its most Boston on Marathon Monday.
If you’ve lived there for any period of time, you understand what that means.
Every city has a personality, and Boston’s is both that of the tenacious 26.2 mile runner and their best friends screaming in the crowd. It’s that of the Irish pub owner giving away free pints of Guinness to anyone with a family member running the race and the Southie-raised cop giving the people who get drunk off those Guinesses a little more leeway. It’s the Sox season ticket holders actually caring about another sport, at least until the Sox game stars, the veterans proudly wear their Patriot’s Day gear as they watch both events from their couch in Dorchester, and the thousands of students from everywhere but Beantown finally feeling like they can sing, “Boston you’re my home” and mean it.
But yesterday for a brief moment Boston was not that city I miss every Marathon Monday; it was a war zone.
This is the second time I’ve been hundreds of miles away from a tragedy that, should timing have been different, I might have experienced first hand. First there was 9/11, during which I was ironically at Boston College, and yesterday there was what the news is now calling the Boston Bombings, during which I was over 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles.
I watched the video of the bombs going off on Boylston Street with the same feeling of distance as I had when the Twin Towers fell. It was like seeing a familiar place turned foreign. All the surroundings are the same, but nothing you’re seeing makes sense. It’s like my brain wanted to try and convince me that I was looking at some place I’d never seen before, not the block I walked down dozens of times. This wasn’t Boston. This was some miserable movie set.
Then I saw the picture of Patrick.
Patrick is a good friend from BC who currently lives in Boston with his wife Jess. I know plenty of kids who were born and raised in Boston, but Patrick is the most Boston of them all. He has that accent that makes it impossible to tell if he’s saying “parking” or “packing,” he’s no more than two degrees of separation from Whitey Bulger (or so he claims), and he cried his eyes out when the Sox finally won the World Series. If you met Patrick on an iceberg in Antarctica, you’d instantly know he was from Boston. Hell, the penguins would know.
But yesterday Patrick was a shell-shocked victim in a wheelchair staring back at me from the pages of TheBostonHerald.com, and within a few moment there was his beautiful wife Jess, a frozen image of grief and pain on the front page of the New York Times online.
Suddenly my brain knew exactly how real this all was.
My heart broke for them. For Patrick who wouldn’t have watched his city’s marathon from anywhere but a spot close to the finish line, and for Jess who probably married Patrick in part because he wouldn’t watch his city’s marathon from anywhere but that spot. They were victims of a senseless crime in the heart of the place they equate with nothing but family, friends and love. It made me sick, and it made me mad.
But as I stared at that picture of Patrick, I couldn’t help but see into the future – as if knowing Patrick as the opposite of that horrific image made it impossible to believe it was anything but fleeting.
I saw his recovery among a community of doctor and nurses that would quickly feel just like his cousins in Cambridge. I saw he and Jess participating in the community gatherings of healing and support that will no doubt pop up around the city in the weeks following. I saw Patrick speak at our alma mater about how he overcame the fear that day, and then I saw him counseling trauma victims from other devastating events across the country, if not the world. And finally I saw the two of them walking hand in hand down Boylston Street once they were finally able to revisit the place where their lives were forever changed.
And once I was able to see that whole future for Patrick – a man I so define by all the characteristics of the great city that raised him – I started to see that future for the city itself. The re-building, the re-trusting, the healing and ultimately the growth.
Boston is defined by many things, but it is nothing without Bostonians. Yesterday, for a brief moment, I forgot what forces of nature that specific crop of people can be. I focused on their fear and not their resilience. I saw their pain and not the strength behind it. But Patrick reminded me from a blurry photo taken 3,000 miles away.
The people of Boston are indistinguishable from the city where they live. I learned that from my friend Patrick who I can hear right now calling himself a, “son of Boston,” in that awesome accent, and I relearned it yesterday when all I could see through the pain and destruction was the spirit I know stills exists underneath.
Patrick, Jess and their city will come out of this stronger . They will fight with everything that they have to return to the lives they were in the process of building, and once they make it there, they will continue to fight for everyone still on the journey back. I am afraid of so many things after these horrific events – the state of our national security and the future of the events that bring us joy paramount among them – but I am not worried about my friend and my former city making a full recovery…especially after hearing that the first things Patrick wanted to know upon waking up from surgery were whether or not the nurse went to Boston College, and if the Sox won their game.
Please send your thoughts and prayers from wherever you are to Boston, specifically to the hospital beds of Patrick and Jess who sustained significant leg injuries but are gaining strength every day.