As I write this, I’m still transfixed by coverage of the horrific bombing in my hometown of Boston. The only word I can think of to describe it is heartbreaking. High profile, yes — the Boston Marathon is one of the most well known of its kind, attracting runners from some 96 different countries this year. But much more importantly, the Boston Marathon is inclusive.
It’s as much about the spectators as it is about the runners: Families and friends from all over the city, state, country and world arrive with homemade signs, cheering on their runners, then sticking around to cheer on all the other runners. They hand out water, Gatorade, Mylar blankets and anything else they think will help. Everyone smiles at everyone else on Marathon Monday, because we all know this is why we’re here: to have fun with strangers. Withering Boston sarcasm — a local delicacy — is supplanted by an almost surreal level of goodwill toward visitors and natives alike.
Our yearly athletic bacchanalia, a veritable celebration of visitors in a city not always known for its approachable strangers — this is the rule. The exception is what happened on Monday, April 15. It’s important to remember just how exceptional it was, too. As the oldest yearly marathon in the world, the Boston Marathon dates back to 1897 and has been a remarkably peaceful celebration since.
The exception is a cowardly act: taking lives away from the innocent and legs away from those who valued them most. The rule is brave, inspiring individuals who run whole marathons not because they’re natural athletes, but because they’re raising money for charity in memory of a loved one.
The exception is little kids scared because their parents are scared, the uncertainty in those terrifying first few minutes almost — but not quite — inducing panic on Boylston Street. The rule is hundreds of heroic first responders, trained and otherwise, who ran toward the scene of the bombing instead of away, making tourniquets out of lanyards and saving countless lives.
The exception is streets choked with ambulances and emergency room doctors pulling ball bearings out of ruined limbs. The rule is streets full of local Bostonians, offering cell phones, water, jackets, rooms for the night, Internet access or just hugs. The rule is doubling down on the spirit of the Boston Marathon, to make sure locals and out-of-towners are taken care of.
The exception, lest anyone forget, is anger, hatred, accusation and speculation about who might have done such a thing. The exception is lashing out without knowledge, out of anger and fear. The rule is justice: Patience as law enforcement is allowed to methodically investigate, and compassion as citizens and visitors comfort one another.
Some will say that the Boston Marathon has lost its innocence, that the heightened security will undermine the spirit of community that has become the hallmark of Marathon Monday. But this was never about innocence — let’s face it, innocence has never been a good look for Boston. It’s about a small community that decided 117 years ago to pick one of the first warm days of the year to open its arms to visitors from around the globe. Extra security won’t change that, just like a cowardly attack won’t change it — these things are the exceptions, and sometimes the exceptions prove the rule.
Nate Smith is a Public Policy graduate student.