The Boston Marathon course ran past the front steps of the apartment building where I grew up in Brighton. We lived a bit after the twentieth mile, just over the crest of Heartbreak Hill. Since Patriot’s day was a holiday and we had no school, we’d go out every year and watch, a rite of spring, along with opening day at Fenway Park.
Back then, there were a paltry two or three hundred runners, not the twenty-five thousand plus of today. There were no prizes beyond a laurel wreath and the beef stew waiting at the finish. But thousands of onlookers would line the streets and offer complete strangers water and encouragement.
Another connection was when my dad was a kid, his scoutmaster was a man named Clarence Demar. Now, I suspect few of you have heard of him, but he won the Boston Marathon seven times around the 1920’s. He wasn’t a pro. He didn’t win prize money or endorsements. He just loved to run. He worked as a printer in Boston and used to train by running to and from work.
Of course, today the marathon is a bigger deal. Prize money was first awarded in 1986 and top finishers now compete for more than $800,000. The marathon is televised broadly and sponsored by large corporations. But most of that hullabaloo involves only the first few hundred runners, superhuman specimens who run faster per mile than most can conceive of and keep it up across hill and dale for twenty six miles.
They weren’t the ones targeted. The bombs were set to go off around four o’clock. That’s when the nine-minute-a-mile guys come in. These are people that will never win anything, if you don’t count the respect of friends and family and the pride in their accomplishment. Many of them are running for charity or in memory of a loved one. Lots of them have used the marathon as a goal, the pinnacle of a journey back from some hardship—stroke, cancer, addiction or personal loss. For them, the marathon is more than a road race. It’s a celebration of the human spirit.
Into this celebration came some deranged mind. It doesn’t matter whether their cause was political or religious, or they were just delusional. What they sought was not only to kill and maim innocent people, but to steal dreams.
Some people say that dystopian fiction is so popular today because we’ve become cynical. I think it’s because such stories show an individual’s ability to prevail over hardship and to shine even in the worst of circumstances. That’s the triumph of the human spirit—our ability to be at our best when things are at their worst.. And no one can steal our dreams.