It was a day marked by somber reflection and painful remembrance, one year after a pair of homemade bombs inflicted unspeakable suffering at the Boston Marathon. But when Patrick Downes took the stage Tuesday at an anniversary tribute, he described a year filled with love and gratitude.
Downes, 30, lost a leg after the bombings, as did his wife, Jessica Kensky. The two had been married for less than a year. Speaking to a raptly attentive room of 2,500 fellow survivors, first responders, and family members at the Hynes Convention Center, Downes described with quiet feeling the sacrifices of family and the bonds forged between strangers, the “individual snapshots of grace” he called “the most humbling experience of our lives.”
“We chose to love, and that has made all the difference,” said Downes, a doctoral student in psychology at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. “I would never wish our pain on you or anyone. . . . But I do wish, for all of you, that you would [at some point] feel as loved as we have in the past year.
“History will tell of the devastation visited on our families,” Downes continued. “I hope it will also tell of the compassion and unity that followed.”
The gentleness of his message resonated in a 90-minute program largely focused on finding the good in the aftermath of April 15, 2013. The tribute, which was closed to the public, honored those most affected by last year’s violence, including the three people killed by the bombing and the police officer killed in the manhunt that followed. It featured patriotic and inspirational music by the Boston Children’s Chorus and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra with conductor Keith Lockhart.
Guests included Marathon volunteers who were pressed into service as first responders last April, doctors and nurses who cared for bombing victims, and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, who visited Boston last spring and left her own running shoes at the memorial in Copley Square.
In impassioned remarks calling the anniversary “an important day for America” and equating Boston’s response with the best instincts of all Americans, the vice president lauded the city for its example.
“You’re living proof that America can never, never, never be defeated,” Biden said. “Terrorists try to instill fear . . . and it infuriates them that we refuse to bend, to change, to yield to fear. “That’s what makes us so proud of this city — that you have never yielded.”
Other speakers included Governor Deval Patrick, who described the tribute as a celebration of community.
The city’s recovery during the past year was “an enduring example of the power of the common cause, indeed, the power of love itself,” Patrick said. “That’s what community is . . . and I am so proud to be a part of this one.”
There were plainspoken reminders of the pain that remains, some of the most poignant from Thomas M. Menino, longtime mayor of Boston.
Menino, who was in office when the bombing happened, has been diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer since stepping down.
The crowd stood to applaud as he made his way slowly to the podium and spoke in a voice sometimes hoarse with emotion.
“This day will always be hard,” Menino said. “It will never be easy to be close to that place where our lives broke apart.” But, he said, “You are strong at this broken place. Compassion took hold of this city,” and it was “a mighty force.”
“Our support and love for you will never waver,” Menino promised the victims. “We will never forget what this day means to you.”
The program for the tribute included written remembrances of Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Sean Collier, contributed by their families but not read aloud at the ceremony.
Lu’s father composed his tribute as a letter, beginning, “My precious daughter Lingzi.”
“When you were born, I remember seeing a big baby girl with round face, big eyes, thick dark hair and the loudest cries,” he wrote. “I couldn’t help but [have] the biggest grin on my face.”
“Lingzi, Mom and Dad could not have asked for a better daughter,” his letter concludes. “We were so lucky and honored to be your parents . . . May the wind whistle your laughter in my ear, may your smile beam through the sunshine on my face, until the day we meet again.”
In his remarks, Downes called the victims “our guardian angels.”
“Let them hear us roar,” he urged the crowd, looking ahead to next week’s Boston Marathon and the thousands who will line the course.
Downes also expressed gratitude for the community of survivors who have drawn strength and understanding from one another.
“We should never have met this way,” he said, “but we’re so grateful for each other.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, elected last fall, called for hope in the names of those who died.
“We can believe, as Martin did, as Krystle, Sean, and Lingzi did, that anything is possible,” Walsh said. “Because, after all, this is Boston, a city of hope.”
Another survivor, Adrianne Haslet-Davis, called for April 15 to become “a day of action” when the warmth and kindness shown to victims of the bombing will be extended to others in need of aid.
“There are people in your community who need your support, your patience and time, when dealing with situations like ours,” said Haslet-Davis, a dancer who also lost a leg last April. She has begun to dance again using a prosthesis.
Haslet-Davis beamed as she walked swiftly back across the tribute stage, her gait smooth and fluid, without the slightest hitch.