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The Nineteenth of April

My mother always raises the flag on April 19th. Not on the third Monday in April, mind you, but on the nineteenth. She also feels that ice hockey was better before they used the curved sticks. There is something wonderfully Bostonian about my mother that probably does have something to do with growing up in Newton and taking the streetcar to see Braves games. In another world, she might have become one of Francis Dahl’s umbrella-carrying ladies in bombazine. Come to think of it, she still might.

My own childhood experience of Patriots Day, growing up in the desert, was restricted then to the flag and the awareness of the anniversary of the Shot Heard ’Round the World. I identified with the little guy, with the hat over his eyes.

My first Patriots Day in Boston was in 1995, I think, and my last (so far) was in 2003. My recollection is that I went to the ballgame twice, possibly three times. At least one of those was with David S. Bernstein, walking over from my Fenway apartment and meeting him in the street by the vendor. They stopped the game and showed the finish on the big screen, and we all cheered—we weren’t cheering for anybody, you understand, just… well, just cheering. Cheering for the Marathon, for the existence of it, for the existence of people crazy enough to run home from Hopkinton. Nobody knew the names of anybody who might win, you know. Except that German woman, we knew her name. Can’t remember it now, of course. The people we knew—and most years, we knew somebody who was running, or somebody who had a cousin who was running or something—were hoping to come in at four hours or so. Or just to finish, honestly.

That’s the thing that always moved me about the Marathon. There were, oh, I’ll call it three races. I tell a lie, it’s four races, as the wheelchair athletes go first. Then the elite runners, the ones that are trying to win; those are over by 2:30 or so. Then the next group, the ones who are trying to finish within four hours, or within four and a half, or within the top half of finishers, or whatever their goals are. Runners with tremendous ability, almost unthinkable tenacity and drive—and no chance to beat the professionals. I know a few of those people, and they are amazing.

But it’s the fourth and final race that I really liked, the one for the people who are just trying to finish. The stragglers, six or seven hours after the start, when the cheering crowd has thinned out to a handful. Those people are just going to finish the damned marathon, they are—nobody but them cares whether they do or not, and they know that, and they're going to finish it anyway. There’s something so wonderfully pointless about it, and marvelously ridiculous, and movingly meaningless. What’s the big deal about 26.2 miles? Isn’t twenty miles an achievement? But it’s not just going 26.2 miles on foot, it’s the third Monday in April, and it’s the Boston Marathon. So I would usually take a little time, usually as I passed through Kenmore Square after work (when I went to work on Patriots Day (observed) that is) anyway, and cheer for those stragglers, who were still at that point in the day running faster than I could sustain for a mile.

And it’s those visions in my head that have been making me weep today. Not the images of the maimed, which I have mostly been able to avoid, both through my eyes and in my imagination, but the stragglers being stopped at the twenty-fourth mile. And also those descriptions of people just walking through the town. Not even on past Patriots Days, just people enjoying that neighborhood of Boston. Picnicking in Copley Plaza. Taking the bad-weather route through the Westin to the Pru. The Old South Church on the corner that isn’t the one-if-by-land church. Coming out of the BPL into horizontal sleet.

There was an image that went around Facebook, a drawing of the four Boston major league mascots (including an improbable cartoon Green Monster) saying You fucked with the wrong city. It seemed like the wrong response to me—would it have been smarter to fuck with Indianapolis? Would Melbourne have exhibited any less unity or courage? Would the people of Warsaw fail to provide support and succor in their hours of need? No, whoever it was did not fuck with the wrong city, except in the sense that all cities are wrong cities in which to murder and maim. And yet… and yet, and yet, they didn’t just fuck with Boston, they fucked with Boston on Patriots Day.

They fucked with my city, is what they did.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Beautifully put.

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