Boston remembers its pain. The inscription on the back of the Beacon Hill memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his legendary Civil War regiment declares, “The memory of the just is blessed.” The plaque on the Bay Village site of the Cocoanut Grove fire describes a “phoenix out of the ashes.” The Public Garden memorial to those who lost their lives on 9/11 proclaims, “The people of Massachusetts will always remember. . .”
A commitment to rise to the occasion, to endure what must be endured, to remember all who suffered and lost their lives in times of strife, is written into the fabric of the city. From the Bunker Hill Monument to the Tea Party ships, Bostonians are confronted with the stoicism of those who came before them. Monday’s assault on the city’s greatest shared ritual, the Boston Marathon, will remain in the city’s memory forever. And just as the vibrant city surrounding the site of the Boston Massacre is the ultimate tribute to the Revolutionary generation, a renewed embrace of the fellowship inherent in the global marathon will be Boston’s way of honoring those who were killed or injured on April 15, 2013.
The fact that the Marathon takes place on Patriots Day may or may not have been a factor in the attack; it is, absolutely, a part of what makes the event unique, a celebration of both nature and history, the coming of spring and the region’s connection to the Revolutionary War. More than 20,000 athletes compete in the race. Unlike at most major sporting events, the spectators who line the 26.2 miles of the Marathon course are not just cheering elite athletes; they’re cheering on friends and family members. Monday’s weather — sunny, and in the 50s — was spectacular for running, and for winter-weary Bostonians it was an invitation to go outside.
The stretch of Boylston Street where the bombings occurred has outsize significance for the way residents and visitors alike perceive the city. The race ends at the Boston Public Library, not just an architectural landmark but a temple to education, the modern city’s whole reason for being. Nearby is the Prudential Center, a thriving commercial and residential development built atop a railyard amid what once seemed to be a declining city. Not far away are the historic brownstones and boutique shops of Newbury Street. The area bustles on a brisk spring day. What made the Marathon finish line a vulnerable target for a bomber — all those people in such close quarters — is also what makes today’s Boston feel like an active, prosperous city.
More than an athletic competition, the Marathon is also a major charitable event. Elite runners had finished the race long before; most of those still on the course when the explosions occurred were dedicated amateurs, many of whom had presumably sought entry into the storied race to raise money for medical research and other worthy causes. Their very presence was a reflection of their commitment to civic advancement.
In targeting the Marathon, an attacker or group of attackers came face to face with the city’s resilient spirit. People around the world got to see it, as well. Such qualities and commitments as were on display on Boylston Street are immutable; in confronting the worst of human nature, Boston will, as it did on Monday, strive to live up to the best.