I was writing a blog on college sports when the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. The images of fallen runners and bloodied spectators felt like a sucker punch to the heart. My eyes welled up and I had to stop writing.
Then came the fury.
They messed with the wrong people. Boston is more like a family than a city. So this is pretty personal to all of us who consider Beantown home.
My family lived there for nearly a decade. My wife and I worked a few blocks from the marathon finish line. Our first home overlooked Beacon Street and we’d watch the marathon from our roof. Our sons were born at Beth Israel, the hospital that treated many of the bomb victims.
In Massachusetts, Patriots Day is a state holiday celebrated on the third Monday in April to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord. We’d always kick off the festivities the night before in Boston’s North End with Italian pastries and a rousing church service and lantern lighting at Old North Church. Then, after celebrating in the streets with Redcoats and Minutemen until late in the evening, we’d hustle home for a few hours sleep before showing up on Lexington Battle Green by 4 a.m. with johnnycake and thermoses of hot chocolate to keep us warm until the battle re-enactment at 6.
Thousands of Bostonians repeat this ritual every year. We know going in that the British are going to win. But we keep going back to stand with the fallen. That’s just how we roll.
Then we’d pay tribute to Revolutionary War veterans at a nearby cemetery; take in a pancake breakfast put on by the Boy Scouts at the Congregational Church; and get back to the city in time for the Sox game at 11. Then came the race.
I can’t dream up a better day. The game and the marathon symbolize the pride and spirit of the city. But in a matter of seconds, a couple explosions turned the cheers of Patriots Day 2013 to tears.
It’s been said that Bostonians only take three things seriously — sports, politics and revenge. But when I said that those who did this messed with the wrong people, I wasn’t hinting at retaliation. Boston’s finest and the FBI will do their job and the perpetrators will become a forgotten footnote. Rather, I meant that the terrorists don’t understand our psyche. Boston is the cradle of the American Revolution. Its people are tough, gritty and proud. Tragedy only deepens our convictions.
Think of this. Moments after the carnage, runners who had just finished a grueling 26-mile course ran an additional two miles to area hospitals to donate blood. Guys who blow up women and children can’t get their twisted minds around that concept.
Then there’s the unity factor. This week Red Sox flags hung from Yankee Stadium. And during the Yankee game Tuesday night, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” — a Fenway anthem at every Red Sox game — boomed through the Bronx as New Yorkers sang and held up signs: “We’re with you Boston.”
Sports are metaphors for lots of things. In times of tragedy, they remind us that we are all on the same team when it comes to combating terrorism. A cartoon in the New Yorker said it best. It showed a father and daughter walking in New York, wearing Yankee hats and Red Sox shirts. The caption read: “Yes, we like the Yankees, but today we’re all rooting for Boston.”
Courage is not fearlessness. It’s a willingness to act when frightened; strength in the face of grief. Just look at the people who rushed into the smoke to help the wounded seconds after the explosion.
Boston and New York — two rival cities — now stand connected by terrorism. A decade ago terrorists knocked down the Twin Towers, killing thousands.
But New York thrives today. And for the past six years, crews have been building a new World Trade Center. When it is completed later this year, it will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, topping out at 1,776 feet, commemorating American independence.
I wasn’t in Boston for Patriots Day this year. But I will be there next year. I’ll be at Old North Church singing “America the Beautiful” with people from all faiths. I’ll be at Lexington Green to see Minutemen fall to Redcoats. I’ll cheer on the Red Sox. And I’ll salute the runners.
I’ve got a feeling the crowd next year will be bigger than ever.
Jeff Benedict is a special features contributor for Sports Illustrated and the author of 11 books. His website is www.jeffbenedict.com.