Few days are anticipated in New England like the unofficial first day of real spring, Patriots Day. It marks the annual commemoration of the battles at Lexington and Concord, the shots heard around the world that were the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It is these iconic events of American freedom that we celebrate.
In Massachusetts, it is a mélange of civic holiday and the biggest street party anywhere. Workers have the day off. Schools are out. America’s college town kids party and join the locals lining the streets to watch the marathon.
For many of us, it is a day to forget work, and head to Fenway Park for the only 11 a.m. start of the entire major league baseball season. After the game, many fans make the short walk to Copley Square to watch the end of the marathon.
Yesterday the sheer joy and commotion of the best day of the year in that most beautiful, historic and learned of American cities was shattered by the explosions that have left three dead and more than 100 wounded.
The Red Sox game was wonderful; the hose beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth. But there was scant time to cheer; within an hour the first bomb erupted near the marathon finish line near Copley Square.
This was the first year a chilly yours truly and his longtime Patriots Day companion, Len Levin, took in the game but did not walk to Copley Square to watch the finish of the 117th edition of the marathon. We were both a bit cold and underdressed for the wind.
It is difficult for residents of other parts of the country to understand the citywide party that is Patriots Day in Boston. (Maybe Mardi Gras in New Orleans). But suffice it to say that New Englanders look forward to it as a rite of spring and renewal that is deeply embedded in the psyche and DNA of the nation’s region.
The marathon is the ultimate small d democratic sports event. At a time when most ,major sports envelop Thorsten Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption, with spectators cosseted in million-dollar luxury boxes, the marathon is free and open to all. Fans line the 26-mile course to watch both world-class runners and the amateurs who flock to Boston from everywhere to run the challenging course and create their own athletic memories. For every sleek Kenyan with a shot at winning, there are hundreds upon hundreds of men and women who train by slogging down our streets in nasty winter New England weather.
The marathon is also one world-class sporting event that is impossible to police in a way that deters the twisted and insane among us from terror. At baseball’s World Series and Super Bowl, the spectators can be frisked and forced to churn through airport mags. But how can a free society police such a democratic event as the marathon in which thousands run 26 miles through the streets of eastern Massachusetts?
This a very sad time for Americans and especially New Englanders. And for Christians it is very difficult to find God in the Boston Marathon bombings. But of all sections of the United States, New Englanders have proven to be the most resilient for many generations.
Perhaps the best we can do is offer our prayers to the bereft, open our pockets to those left in need and urge all our runner friends to start training tomorrow for the 2014 Boston Marathon. And plan to attend next year’s race. Yours truly promises next year to make the walk to Copley Square after the morning Sawx game.