Scott MacKay Commentary: We Remember: Patriot's Day 2014

Apr 11, 2014

It’s been a year since bombs and blood in the streets shattered one of New England’s treasured civic celebrations.  RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay parses the lessons of the Boston Marathon bombings as this year’s race approaches.

The corner of Cambridge and Tremont streets after the Boston Marathon bombings, one year ago.
Credit Bradley Campbell / RIPR

Patriots Day is both a solemn day of remembrance and a time of fizzy celebration. Long a state holiday in Massachusetts, it marks the annual commemoration of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the shots heard around the world that started the Revolutionary War and established the template for what would become the greatest democracy and strongest military power the world has ever known.

These beginnings of American freedom are marked by folks dressed in tri- cornered hats, carrying muskets and reenacting the battles that every school child is familiar with. A town crier rides a horse through the city to remind citizens of Paul Revere’s ride.

This cradle of liberty sprouted another grand civic celebration, one that is anticipated by many more revelers than the patriotic 18th century rhetoric of the Revolution.  The modern Patriots Day is less about the nation’s birthplace and more about modern, multi-cultural Boston, New England’s oldest, largest and most important city.

The day begins just after dawn, in suburban Hopkinton, as runners line up for the Boston Marathon, one of the world’s iconic road races. At 11 a.m., the reigning World Series Champion Red Sox will play the Baltimore Orioles in the only major league baseball game every  season that starts in the morning.

Next week’s is the 118th running of the marathon that, like its host city, is marinated in history.  As is century-old Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, located a long David Ortiz home run from the race finish line. Few days in New England are awaited like this unofficial first day of spring.

In this season of Easter and Passover, of daffodils and renewal, Patriots Day in the Hub is a mélange of respect for the past and hope for the future. This oldest of all the great American cities is a today a young place, with more college students than any other metropolis. Students line the streets, from the women of Wellesley College handing parched runners water to the beery Boston College and Boston University undergrads cheering as they approach the finish line in the Back Bay.

World-class runners and amateurs alike run the marathon. For every muscular Kenyan with a chance at victory, there are thousands of men and women who dodged snowbanks  all winter training so they could finish the race and create their own athletic memories.

It’s an annual street party like few others in the nation, sort of like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, without the nudity and torrent of colored beads. There is still a strand of the Puritan in Boston, even if they wouldn’t recognize their city nowadays.

The innocence of all this was shattered one year ago when the bombs blew up near the finish line, a dagger to Boston’s heart. Three were left dead and hundreds wounded. The shock and rage continued for several days as the alleged bombers were hunted down; one died in the police pursuit, the other was captured and is in prison awaiting trial for murder and terrorism.

What did we learn from this senseless, random murder of innocents?

We found out that New Englanders, like New Yorkers after 9-11, are resilient. Many more would have died but for the heroics of the police and firefighters who provided first aid and brought victims to the city’s hospitals, where doctors and nurses were able to save the lives of everyone who arrived alive.

Millions of dollars were raised to help victims and their families. Police and federal agents worked without sleep in a locked down city to track down the alleged murderers. Ortiz, he of the piano key smile and home run bat, spoke for many when he dropped his imperishable, televised expletive, telling all not to mess with ``our city.’’

Heather Abbott, the Newport woman who lost her leg in the bombing, spoke for many when a month after the bombing, she hobbled out of a rehabilitation hospital the morning of Rhode Island Day at Fenway Park. There were few dry eyes when she went to the pitchers’ mound that afternoon and tossed the ceremonial first pitch to home plate.

Boston was once divided by social and political rivalries among native Protestant Yankees, Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants and a black population that had scant clout. This city has evolved into a more multi-cultural place with educational institutions and a thriving economy that beckons the talented from around the world.

Yet we discovered that this new Boston is not immune from the scourge of hatred and fanaticism. We also learned the hard lesson of a pluralistic democracy: that it’s impossible for the free society – which we honor on Patriots Day - to police an event such as the marathon without a resort to martial law. Two twisted young men ruined a party attended by millions.

Three days after the bombings, President Obama spoke movingly the interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.  ``This time next year, on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon.’’

We will never forget last year’s victims. As we remember, let us hope that the president ‘s sentiments rule the day next Monday.