November 21, 2014
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Defending our city

As Johnston resident Megan Jaswell walked me through her experiences on Marathon Monday, I mentally followed her course.

Runners met at the Boston Common. My mind ticked back to afternoon picnics and ultimate Frisbee. When you go to school in a city, open green space to stretch out in comes at a premium, and the Common is as close to a real quad as I would get at Northeastern. I thought about the nearby movie theater. Unlike the multiplexes here, it had character. It was a big chain, nonetheless, but famous movie quotes are scripted in gold along the arched ceiling. Movie posters in ornate frames line the hallways. I remember daringly sneaking a few Bud Lights into the theater that time my roommate Kyle and I went to see “Disturbia.” The memory made me smile.

From the Common, school buses trek runners back to the race start in Hopkinton. My mind wandered to Marathon Mondays in my past. A day off from classes, we never indulged by sleeping late – no, quite the opposite. We were up early for a quick breakfast before jumping on the green line and staking out our positions along the route. In our later years, the pressure was on to find the perfect restaurant. Television coverage of the race is essential, as is outdoor seating along the actual route to allow for plenty of cheering. I’ve never been a runner, but Marathon Monday is an important holiday and tradition to the city of Boston. It’s like a religious observance; even if you’re new to the church, you bow your head in reverence for the spirit of the city and its people. And like many cities, Boston plays for keeps. Transplants quickly pick up the accent, and college students come to consider Beantown home. Anyone who has spent time there, from Fenway to Ruggles, falls in love with Boston. I was no different. Boston is my city.

Fortunately, Jaswell finished the race in good time. She was long gone when the explosions went off, but began to suspect something was wrong on her walk back to the course for dinner. She wasn’t alarmed when she first saw the ambulances – a common sight at marathon finish lines – but when unmarked police cars started showing up along Stuart Street, she began to get worried. I thought of my walks from Northeastern to the Papa Razzi on Boylston where Kyle worked. I’d walk along Stuart before cutting across. I’d wonder if I’d ever make enough money to eat at Fleming’s.

When Megan’s voice cracked, I held my breath. And when she started to cry, she couldn’t hear it, but so did I.

So did all of us.

The details of Monday’s attack are still fuzzy. We don’t know who is responsible. We don’t know if the perpetrators are foreign or domestic. What we will never know is why. No motive or agenda can justify the events of this week, and even if those responsible are brought to justice, Marathon Monday will never be the same. Boston will never be the same.

Before hanging up from our interview, I asked Megan how this experience has impacted her desire to run marathons. Would she ever return to Boston? She didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely.”

For starters, she says running is what she loves, and she will continue to pursue that dream. But what she said next really stuck with me. She said that she wouldn’t be scared off, that she wouldn’t give the sick people who did this the satisfaction of knowing that she is too afraid to follow in the footsteps of the runners that came before her. And she said that she wanted to run on behalf of the runners and spectators who died and were injured.

Megan is a Rhode Islander, but that’s a Boston attitude if I’ve ever heard it.

In his address to the nation, President Obama said that Boston is a tough town. You can say that again. We complain about the traffic and the rents and how the T is always running late, but if an outsider makes the same complaints, we will defend our city with gusto. We lose in the Garden and resort to “Yankees Suck” chants. A taxi cuts us off and we have a few choice hand signals to share. Someone tells us about the food on Federal Hill, and we roll our eyes – no magazine is going to tell us that there is Italian food better than what you find in the North End. Our beloved Red Sox are down three games in the ALCS championship, but we still pack Fenway and Game On. We believe in miracles and second chances and the underdog.

Boston is a tough city, it’s our city, and nobody is going to break it.

 


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