At about 6:50 this morning I was awoken by the sound of marching drums, echoing from the wooded distance behind my backyard. It was the Minutemen, marching from the western farmlands to congregate in Concord in advance of facing their enemy head-on.
Every year on Patriots’ Day, faithful imitators from around New England don the garb of 18th century farmer-warriors, complete with tri-cornered hats, to emulate their ancestors who had fought and died for ideals bigger than themselves, namely freedom and equality. Salesmen and technicians, accountants and lawyers, all strangers to each other, wake up before the dawn and march down Estabrook Woods to honor the genesis of their country and the ideals upon which it was founded. One of them plays the marching drums, and while he who hits the snare may not be a real minuteman, the sound emanating from the drum through the misty April morning is the true sound of patriotism.
At about 7:50 this morning my commute took me past the hallowed wooden bridge located slightly outside the center of Concord. A bustling crowd had gathered to witness the reenactment of the battle of Concord. There were more minutemen, and some kind souls were even dressed as Red Coats, performing their patriotic duty to act the part of the enemy.
Considering the size of the crowd, I had to drive slowly past the bridge, lest I accidentally bump a British Red with my car. Staring at those walking by I noticed one thing immediately. From those about to take part in the reenactment to the spectators, from the children seated upon their parents shoulders to the elderly adults wearing their old Army pins, everyone was smiling.
Patriots’ Day is a celebration, and a uniquely Bostonian one at that. A recent New Yorker article, profiling families who had lived in lower-middle class Boston neighborhoods (apologies for the lack of specific attribution as I can’t find it online), noted that Bostonians are particularly proud of the towns in which they were raised, but even more proud to have gotten out of them. At it’s core, this is also what Patriot’s Day is all about, a celebration of where we came from, and more importantly of what we did next.
There may be a no more appropriate physical representation of that spirit than a marathon. Participants traverse 26.2 miles from here to there. In this case, the “there” is Boston’s Back Bay; the finish line nearly looking out over the endless horizon of the Atlantic. Marathoners are celebrated because of their superhuman ability to deal with the adversity of “here” and endure to get “there.” Through the pain and dehydration, the mental anguish and heartbreaking hills, they endure. We gather in Boston on Patriot’s Day to celebrate their spirit.
At about 2:50 this afternoon I saw the first reports of Boylston Street’s explosion. Soon my computer was filled with a steady stream of grizzly and graphic pictures of blood-splattered streets. Video footage then began to surface of the bombing, and they looked like scenes in an action movie, only instead of taking place in an impossibly far away fictional city, it was right here, in my front yard. For a moment that will now remain eternal, the evils of hell had filtered through the cracks on Boylston Street, on what is supposed to be a day of celebration.
The (as of this moment) unnamed cowards who committed the atrocity attempted to deliver a fatal blow right through the back and into the heart of a proud city. The symbolism is front-and-center. It is an attack on our city’s favorite holiday as a community, in honor of one of Boston’s finest moments during the formation of our country. Even the way they attacked, an ultimate cheap shot, stands in direct opposition to the way we faced our first enemies, head-on upon the fields of Lexington and Concord.
Which makes me wonder how the cowards felt when they saw the footage of first responders running into the chaos to save others at their own expense, and when they read reports of strangers opening their homes to stranded runners, and when the Red Cross said they had already maximized their local blood storage merely hours after the explosion. I wonder how they felt when they heard about marathoners who had crossed the finish line only to keep running straight to Mass General to give blood. I wonder how they felt when Google immediately devised a way to help people find their loved ones near the attack, and local restaurants offered to feed those in need, regardless if they could pay.
The cowards delivered a blow to our heart. Our first response was to break their back through courageousness, a fundamental respect for others, and a willingness to act selflessly in crisis.
The Boston Marathon Bombing is now a part of who we are as a city and country. It becomes an essential chapter in the story about where we came from. The thing is, it will not change what Patriots’ Day is about. Not in the least. Like the battles of Concord and Lexington and the Boston Marathon, what we are currently experiencing is about enduring the “here” in order to get to “there.” It is about where we come from, and more importantly, it is about where we go.