THE BLOG

The Boston Marathon

18/04/2013 13:41 BST | Updated 18/04/2013 15:43 BST
AP

Sometimes when one feels weak and vulnerable - one's sense of safety and peace ruptured violently and shockingly - goodness and solidarity rush in to offer support and solace.

That is how I feel a few days after the Boston marathon bombings.

Despite the sadness and grief, the indignation at injustice and suffering and the horror of senseless violence calculated to instill fear and terrorize, the loss of innocent lives and the struggles of the injured - our community has proven not only its resilience but its civic and moral character.

First responders give of themselves - often at great personal risk - without question or delay.

Thousands of people offer to volunteer and help in any way - big and small - from providing food or shelter - to the comfort of a listening ear, an open heart, and an embrace.

On an individual level, friends reach out and enquire about one's safety and well being.

I felt a little less alone in our city's grief when emails reached me from Rwanda, Spain, England, Canada and other parts of America to check how I am, but also, and as importantly, to express solidarity, concern, and compassion.

Caring and communication quickly fill the breach caused by violence.

Perhaps this is not extraordinary; it is as things should be, especially in times of crisis and distress.

Regardless, it is deeply moving and it is not to be taken for granted.

In an increasingly atomized and disconnected society in which social solidarity is often strained, the ease, generosity, and intensity of commitment to collective well being that so many have demonstrated in Boston is an affirmation of what it means to be democratic citizens and to be human.

Growing up just outside of Boston the marathon has always meant for me a certain moment of possibility at a special time of the year, but also a transcendent faith in life itself.

It always falls just as spring is beginning, and with it the promise of winter's thaw, summer's warmth, and a burst of new life and new beginnings.

My memories of past marathons - especially from childhood - are joyful and simple in their pleasures.

Racing with friends to give out as many cups of water as possible to slake a runner's thirst, cheering on runners with wild enthusiasm and loud yawps of support as well as creative chants to try to inspire even the most exhausted of runners, the taste of orange slices and the outstretched hand of a runner reaching for one and seeing the look of relief on his or her face as the juice provides sweetness and sustenance.

And a general atmosphere of sun dappled streets and picnicking - friends and family sharing a lazy spring day shot through with ambition and endurance, aspiration and achievement.

It was and remains fun in a primal kind of way - almost like a carnival but more easygoing and unpretentious and everyone is themselves.

No masks are worn.

It is a sincere celebration, down-to-earth, unvarnished.

There is sweat and tears, exhaustion and bodies in pain pushed to their limits - but there is also the physical eloquence of an undaunted runner completing the race unbowed, passion, perseverance, humility and humor, awe, dignity and tenacity.

At the marathon you bump into friends you haven't seen for a while, people share food and drink, and there is a sense of shared purpose - to support the runners - alongside just kicking back and enjoying the day.

With its commanding physical presence - 26 miles from out in Hopkinton to downtown Boston - the marathon creates unity across the diversity of the state of Massachusetts by linking towns and cities with different characters and populations, but all who share a common bond in hosting runners on their streets and supporting their efforts.

I have always loved Boston.

And now I love it all the more.

I am a New Englander and this is my capital.

Its landscape speaks to me, its trees, its bold autumns and uncompromising winters - the meandering flow of the Charles River, the green of Boston Common, the Freedom Trail and the values it honors and the lives and stories it recounts, Fenway Park and a crowded T of baseball enthusiasts on their way to or from a game.

And now, when I read about the acts of generosity, the strong sense of collective obligation, I am reminded that what was and will always be magical about the marathon is not just that it heralds spring and the promise of a distant but soon to be realized summer and that it is a relaxing day.

A day which punctuated my youth with wonder and has done the same for countless others and works its dependable magic over and over, year after year.

It is also a uniquely civic holiday - an unself-conscious kind of Thanksgiving that fittingly falls on Patriot's Day, when Massachusetts citizens honor the American Revolution and the democratic values of freedom, liberty, and equality it championed.

The marathon brings people out to the streets to celebrate together in a festive spirit that transcends generational differences and differences of just about every type.

Few public gatherings are as unifying, few make our differences less relevant and our common humanity more palpably and beautifully and immediately obvious - as urgent and powerful as the drive of a runner to reach the finish line, as fundamental as our human need for water and words of support when the going gets rough and the road remains long.

The marathon is special in the way in which people cheer on runners without having any personal connection to them, kids give out cups of water to the thirsty and somehow the meeting of the very individual private aspirations of runners who may be trying to break an athletic record, achieve their personal best, or raise funds for a good cause that speaks to their particular values and identity, relationships and life experiences fuse with that of society at large and become cause for public celebration.

There is something about this alchemy of individual and collective which gives hope and renews vitality.

It restores a sense of purpose and connectedness, community and home.

This year, as always, I feel a sense of gratitude.

But this year it is greater.

We have been tested.

Horribly, against our will, and we have lost our fellow residents and citizens as a consequence of the bombing attacks.

Many are wounded and in pain, physically and emotionally and many will need our support through an arduous process of healing and rehabilitation.

Yet as we mourn, and as we comfort the families of those individuals who lost their lives and who are caring for the wounded, we look to find strength.

We can draw strength from the spirit of the Boston marathon, a wellspring which remains as full and generous as ever.