I did not attend the Boston Marathon this year. Nor did any of my friends or family–all are safe. I am grateful for that, I am grateful for the selflessness and bravery of the first responders and all who jumped in to help, and my thoughts are with the victims (and will be for some time, if this week’s sleepless nights are any indication).
While I didn’t go this year, I went to the marathon last year, and many times before that. I also work part-time in Copley Square, directly across from the finish line; that footage you keep seeing of the blast is almost the exact line of sight from my window. I was there last Thursday when they were setting up the medical tent, literally feet away from me. When I arrived that morning, there was yellow police tape up around the area to keep people out of the way while the workers set up the scaffolding. I joked that it felt like I was invading a crime scene.
[Insert ironic comment here.]
As of this writing, I don’t know who did this, or why. But that’s not what I want to talk about anyway. I want to talk about the marathon, and about Boston, a city that I did not grow up in but that I very much love. Because not every good friend in life is someone you grew up with; some you meet several years down the line. You test one another out, see if you have the same interests, see if your personalities mesh. They might not be New-York-popular, or Los-Angeles-cool, or Paris-smokin’-hot, but you and your city-friend somehow fit together, like one of those world map jigsaw puzzles you buy at Barnes and Noble when you don’t know what else to get your geography-nerd-kid for Christmas. (Uh, not that I was ever on the receiving end of that.)
Okay, so I heart Boston–that’s not surprising. But the marathon? An event at which sports happen? Hi, I’m Gina, and I’d rather attach hermit crabs to my eyelids and listen to them discuss the artistic merit of the Transformers movies than watch an athletic event of any kind. But there are exceptions to every rule, and the exceptions to my ew-yuck-sports policy are:
- Syracuse University basketball (otherwise I’d be disowned)
- World Cup soccer (otherwise I’d be divorced)
- Friday Night Lights
- the Olympic Games, summer and winter (but really, summer)
- the Boston Marathon
My crush on the marathon originated during my years at Boston College. The route of the marathon goes directly past the main gate of the university, and every year my friends and I would wriggle up to the side of the road and yell and scream and high-five all the runners that went by.
I continued to do this long after I graduated. Every year, even though I no longer lived anywhere near the marathon route, I’d get on the train, fight the crowds, stand in the burning sun/freezing cold, and shout clichéd encouragements at total strangers. My friend and I (and that’s friend, singular, because no one else ever wanted to come with us and deal with all that) did this for years, even though we probably had better things to do with our day off and the trouble of planning and getting there was, honestly, kind of a pain in the ass. So why did we do it?
Because it’s friggin’ amazing. I cannot stress this enough. You owe it to yourself to attend a marathon and cheer for the runners at least once in your life, because the experience is something you can’t get anywhere else. Because this particular sporting event is more or less free from all of the junk that mucks up other sports–no exorbitant ticket prices, no $10 hot dogs, no obnoxious fans (except for the hammered college kids, and even their drunken exuberance is tolerable on marathon day). There is something so raw and visceral about witnessing ordinary people do something extraordinary, about being swept up in a miasma of pure support and awe for your fellow man. Every time I’ve attended the Boston Marathon, I leave wrapped in a foil cape of inspiration, like my cold, shriveled heart has grown three times that day. There is nothing in the world like shouting your throat raw and seeing the runners’ faces light up when you call them by name, being a witness to an accomplishment that is, in my opinion, truly remarkable. I know, I know–the mush factor is approaching dangerous levels, all this “triumph of the human spirit” junk that I tend to roll my eyes at. But I swear, there is a heady mix of stuff in the air at that marathon–endurance, joy, pride, humility, and yes, triumph of the goddamn human spirit.
That’s why those spectators were there at the finish line–to be a part of all that, to cheer on their loved ones, to cheer on complete strangers. And that’s why so many people jumped in to help once the bombs went off–because that’s what people are supposed to do. We’re supposed to have each other’s backs, through the ups and the downs, the awesomeness and the shittiness, to Heartbreak Hill and back. Honestly, did the bombers really think the best place to attempt to crush this city’s spirit was the 117th Boston Marathon?
Not even close. Because we’ll be there next year, screaming our throats raw, cheering harder than ever, blaring our goddamn human spirit for the whole world to see.