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Voices / Column

The city too tough to scare

The futility of terrorism in the face of a tough, strong-willed city backs down to no one


The third Monday in April is Patriots’ Day, a state holiday in Massachusetts. It marks the day in 1775 when, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “By the rude bridge that arched the flood,/Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,/Here once the embattled farmers stood,/And fired the shot heard round the world.”

Massachusetts, my native state, is the only state in the union with two holidays commemorating the kicking of British ass. (The other is Evacuation Day, on March 17, which marks the day when the British fleet that blockaded Boston set sail for Nova Scotia.)

Even though Timothy McVeigh tried to sully the day by blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Patriots’ Day has otherwise seemed inviolate.

In this part of the world, the day marks the point in the spring where you feel safe enough to take the snow tires off your car. It’s the one day of the year when the Red Sox play at 11 a.m. Before the elite runners started running sooner in the day, you could watch a baseball game and still get into Kenmore Square to see the finish of the Boston Marathon.

A half million people come to the city to watch the oldest, most challenging marathon in existence. Nearly 30,000 runners from around the world come to Boston to run in an event where the 10,000th-place runner gets as many cheers as the pack of top Kenyan and Ethiopian runners who now dominate Boston.

I’ve stood on that stretch of Boylston Street, where the finish line stays painted in place long after the race is run, and marveled at the courage of the people who pushed themselves for nothing more than the bragging rights that they ran the Boston Marathon. I know those blocks they run past.

And those blood-soaked images from last Monday, images from a city I have loved from up close and afar, has broken my heart and pissed me off beyond belief.

* * *

Patriots’ Day is a day of joy and celebration in Boston and the rest of New England. This was our holiday. This was our marathon.

What happened last Monday was like a punch to our collective guts, but it has also steeled our resolve to not allow a random act of madness to scare us or to make us turn on one another.

The point of terrorism is to terrorize, to take away people’s sense of safety and security and make them scared and fearful.

But people in Boston last week showed how futile that tactic can be in the face of a tough, strong-willed city that backs down to no one.

Some examples:

• The first responders who charged into the chaos, into a scene that looked more like Baghdad or Kabul than Boston.

• The runners who crossed the finish line and kept on running to the local hospitals to give blood.

• The spontaneous outpouring of help for stranded runners, from meals and blankets to places to stay and shoulders to cry on.

• The dogged determination of the investigators who were on the case as soon as the smoke cleared, and who worked with astounding speed to crack the case.

• The full-throated roar of 18,000 voices singing “The Star Spangled Banner” a cappella before last Wednesday’s Bruins-Sabres game at the TD Garden, the first sporting event held after the attack.

• The sight of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino at last Thursday’s prayer service, battling multiple health problems and hobbled by a freshly broken leg, pulling himself out of his wheelchair and onto his feet to speak to the city and tell them that “no adversity, no challenge, nothing can tear down the resilience in the heart of this city and its people.”

* * *

These are the signs that the two young men who allegedly committed this bombing seriously underestimated how Boston would react.

There’s going to be another Boston Marathon next year. The cheers will be as loud as they’ve ever been.

That’s how we, the people of Boston and the rest of New England, will honor the memory of the dead, and how we will respect the pain of those wounded in body and spirit.

We are not going to let anyone take away Patriots’ Day, the day when we honor the courage of those who stood unafraid against tyranny.

We are not going to let anyone take away the Boston Marathon, the most egalitarian sporting event in the world, where just finishing is considered an honor and an accomplishment.

Most of all, we will continue to live our lives, unafraid, unbowed.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #200 (Wednesday, April 24, 2013).

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