It can’t have been later than noon today that I turned to Torie, a ringing cowbell to one side of us and waving American flags to the other, splitting the distance between the C line train tracks and the Beacon Street curb.
Couldn’t have been more than three hours before it happened.
“I love this holiday,” I said to her. “The Boston Marathon is everything that’s right with the world.”
I was exaggerating, at the time, but I’m not now.
I’m not a runner. I don’t run. Think it’s boring. Ditto for watching sporting events, usually. I just discovered I get ESPN last week, looking for ESPN2 to catch UMass Lowell in the Frozen Four.
But I am a Bostonian. I was born at Brigham and Women’s hospital, where today SWAT teams swarmed and 26 patients were–are being–treated for various injuries.
I am a Bostonian, and so when I got to pick my day off this week, compensating for a Sunday shift, I didn’t hesitate to ask for Monday. It is not a sporting event; it is the soul of the city made tangible.
To be in Boston on Marathon Monday is to feel a buzz in the air, like it’s the last day of classes before summer break, or it’s 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve and your boss just sent out an email that you can all go home at 3. It’s feeling a sense of excitement, euphoria, electricity, and to know that sense is shared by everyone you pass. It’s high-fives from strangers, it’s sidewalk barbecues, it’s families enjoying a day together, it’s even sometimes Red Sox fans celebrating a win. It’s what Disneyworld pretends to be.
To be on Heartbreak Hill, on Beacon Street, on Comm Ave, in the home stretch on Boylston–to be in Boston–during the marathon is to feel Boston’s pulse, to become a part of it. The runners are literally surging through the city’s arteries.
And cheering them on are staggeringly large crowds of thousands, who spend the day screaming themselves hoarse, rallying strangers, exclaiming names Sharpied on to arms or stenciled on to t-shirts.
You root for the home team, right? Everyone’s the home team. Doesn’t matter if their jersey says Somerville or Greater Lowell or Mexico or Australia or even New York Athletic Club. Everyone is Boston. Everyone who runs, you want them to win, whatever that means to them. You’re not out there to catch a glimpse of the elites — it’s weirdly exhilarating when you do, these world-class athletes whose names you couldn’t guess at, but maybe you recognize his running shorts or her hairstyle from the year before — but you’re not out there to see who takes home first place.
You’re out there for the charity runners clad in tutus, hamburger suits and superhero capes, raising money for sick children, for the fathers pushing their sons in wheelchairs, for the cancer survivors running to prove they can, for the non-athletes honoring the memory of a loved one who died too soon. Runners like the ones who were crossing the finish line this afternoon, when Back Bay rattled.
They are out there to support a cause, a charity, a relative, their own dream–whatever. And you’re out there to support them. It’s a 26.2-mile chain reaction of support, and today it stretched longer than it ever has before, when a collaborative spreadsheet cropped up, full of Bostonians offering lodging to stranded strangers, when exhausted marathoners reportedly kept going until they reached Mass General and could donate blood, when the Red Cross announced they’d met their need after only a handful of hours.
When I said it this morning, I thought it was hyperbole. But the Boston Marathon is everything that is right.