An April Day in Boston
In Massachusetts the third Monday in April is a holiday called Patriot’s Day, named in commemoration of the famous battles of Concord and Lexington in 1775 that marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Each year these two battles are re-enacted on the village greens, schools and public offices are closed, and the famed Boston Marathon is run.
It is a long-standing tradition that the marathon kicks off mid-morning, followed at 11:00 a.m. by a Boston Red Sox home game at Fenway Park. Baseball and the 117th anniversary of an event steeped in tradition make this one of the most festive days of the year in New England. Runners come from far and wide, including many other nations and Boston becomes a city filled to bursting with spectators.
Also, because it falls on a state holiday, the IRS and the state grant Massachusetts taxpayers an extra day to file income tax returns.
Springtime in New England is a fragile thing: in rare years there really is a spring in April. 2013 has been more typical; the days have been mostly chilly and raw. However, Patriots Monday was an exception: a gloriously warm day with perfect temperatures for the thousands of runners gathered at the starting line in the town of Hopkinton, 26 miles and 385 yards from the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay.
The finish line is always a Mecca, where a great mass of people congregates to cheer the runners as they cross that famous symbol in the street. To attain this goal these athletes have trained for long, often lonely months of endurance running. It is a prize of self-accomplishment beyond compare. They run for charity, for self-esteem, in memory of loved ones both here and no longer here. Crossing the finish line means that all of the long, hard preparation has finally paid off. The cheers from the masses of people all along Boylston Street are reassurance and recognition that a mountain has been successfully conquered. For most the cost of running (and sometimes walking or stumbling) is pain – lots of pain – but to cross that elusive blue and yellow line makes all the pain and suffering somehow worthwhile, for as long as they live they will look upon completing the Boston Marathon as one of the watersheds of their lives.
At exactly 2:50 PM, the area around the finish line was suddenly shattered when two bombs exploded some ten seconds apart. What moments before was a scene of great festivity, as spectators shouted encouragement to exhausted runners as they neared their goal, suddenly became a war zone of blood, shattered and missing limbs, and death.
From joy there was now unspeakable tragedy that forever changed the lives of so many and took the lives of three very innocent young people, one of them only eight years old.
Within seconds runners and spectators sprang into action and became first responders in an effort to aid and comfort the badly injured victims. In the midst of the carnage ordinary people became heroes. The drama that played out on blood-spattered Boylston Street in those first frantic minutes was what good people do in times of crisis.
Of the many gruesome, gripping photos of the drama that turned up in the wake of the bombing, two stand out: one taken just before the first bomb exploded, and the second taken a few moments later amid the bloodbath on Boylston Street.
The first one shows eight-year old Martin Richard standing next to a barrier near the finish line. Some eight to ten feet to his left the camera has captured the image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, forever known as Suspect No. 2, with his white baseball cap on backwards, a knapsack lying at his feet. Perhaps a minute or two later Martin Richard is killed when the first bomb explodes. His mother was gravely injured, as was his sister who lost a leg. If ever there was a symbol of this tragic day, it was the Richard family of Dorchester whose lives were shattered. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
A earlier photo of young Martin later appeared in The Boston Globe in which he is holding a blue home-made sign that reads: “No more hurting people. Peace,” flanked by two hearts and the peace symbol.
The second photo is of 17-year old Sydney Corcoran lying on the pavement while being attended to by two Good Samaritans, one of whom has just applied a makeshift tourniquet that ultimately saved both her leg – and her life. The sidewalk is spattered with her blood and that of others. The photograph is gut-wrenching.
Unlike 9/11, what made this tragedy so different, and ultimately brought about the identity of the bombers was the role played by social media. In 2001 cell phones were just that: fairly crude devices used to make telephone calls. There were no smartphones equipped with cameras, the Internet, apps, texting, and e-mail. Today, seemingly everyone, including young children, possesses one; and these, along with nearby CCTV cameras, played an important role in the identification of the two bombers.
In the wake of the tragedy thousands of phone calls were made to friends and loved ones to determine if they were safe. When I returned home that evening the red light on my answering machine was blinking. It was a message from a dear friend and Army buddy I’ve known for more than forty years. Although he knows I live a considerable distance outside Boston, he nevertheless wanted to reassure himself that I was OK. I immediately called him back, thinking to myself, this is what good people do in bad moments: they reach out. I am forever grateful.
The television coverage, while welcome, was too often just plain wrong and speculative when it ought to have been informative. Among the worst offenders was CNN, with its cast of so-called “experts” pontificating and endlessly repeating the same stories.
As my local paper editorialized, the odious New York Post “took the irresponsibility to a new level on Thursday when it decked out its front page with a photograph that centered on two young men, including a 17-year old from Revere, neither of whom had anything to do with the case. The New York Post’s error had real consequences, with the young men living in fear as they struggled to clear their names.” (Cape Cod Times, April 24, 2013.)
The upshot of this awful incident, as it was with 9/11, is that when bad things happen good people step forward and do the right thing. This above all, is the biggest reason why terrorism will never work.
Those moments, and the days of recovery and resolution were a reflection of what iconic Red Sox slugger David Ortiz accurately but perhaps a bit too profanely pronounced at the pre-game ceremony during their first home game since the bombing, “This is our f*****g city and nobody is going to dictate our freedom.”
“Boston Strong” has become much more than just a slogan; it is the symbol of all that is moral about America and its people. I have lived here for more than thirty years, and on what will forever be remembered as 4/15 those in Boston that April afternoon made me proud to call myself a New Englander.
As memories of the event begin to diminish, let us never forget the victims: those who died, and those whose lives have been forever changed by grievous wounds and amputations reminiscent of IED casualties in Iraq or Afghanistan. We will recover; we will endure, but we must never forget. You can shed our blood but you cannot dent our humanity.