On a Sunday night five years ago, my roommate and I stole a sign under the cover of darkness. It is probably one of the only acts of public vandalism I’ve ever committed, and it was worth it. The sign was posted all along Beacon Street in Brookline, where the Boston Marathon would be held the next day. It read “No Stopping Monday” meaning, in practical terms, no parking. But there seemed to be a double meaning to that sign–there would be no stopping for the runners about to accept the challenge of running 26.2 grueling miles, and it seemed like an appropriate mantra on many a Monday morning, shuffling out of my room and encountering this sign hanging above our kitchen sink. We hung it there for our Marathon Monday party and just never took it down. It seemed to embody the kind of hopefulness and perseverance we witnessed in all of the runners as we cheered them on, that kind of inspiration all of us need at one point or another.
A great deal has been said since Monday’s bombings of the Boston Marathon, and much of it has been said far more eloquently than I could say. But there’s a part of me that’s clamoring to write about this, not to try and make sense of it (there IS no sense) or to tell anyone how to feel or even to tell anyone how I feel (who even knows?) but because writing just helps sometimes. And I would like to try anything that may help.
I read an article in The Atlantic that resonated with me. It says that every year, tens of thousands of students arrive in Boston, and every year, tens of thousands of graduates also leave Boston, disseminating around the world, carrying pieces and memories of Boston with them everywhere they go. That is absolutely true. I grew up just an hour south of Boston, in Rhode Island. Trips to Boston were not infrequent, and by the time I moved there for grad school in 2006, it was so familiar that I was not intimidated–not really. Though I went away for college and even lived abroad for a year, I moved back home after graduation, so Boston was my first real home away from home as an adult. In Boston, I lived in my first apartment, had my first full-time job in publishing, and met the man who would become my husband. I made life-long friendships and had more fun than I knew what to do with. So, yeah, when I left the city in August 2010, four years after I had moved there, you could say I took a huge part of it with me. And it’s still here, though I’ve lived in NYC for nearly three years now.
My first apartment in Boston was actually in Brookline, a garden apartment on Beacon Street just outside of Cleveland Circle, a few miles from the finish line of the marathon. I watched the marathon from the sidewalk every year I lived there, taking the day off of work because my company wasn’t based in Massachusetts, so didn’t get Patriots Day off. Friends would drop by or stay for the afternoon, drifting in and out of the apartment to watch the race live or catch the coverage of the finish line on tv. It was a festive and joyous day, no matter what the weather. Spectators would set up along the sidewalks hours before the first runners came through, hunkering down in folding chairs with plastic cups of beer and Dunkin Donuts. We’d bring out chairs and tables and snacks, staking claim to our little corner of the action, making friends with neighbors and other spectators just there for the event.
If you’ve never been, it’s tough to convey just how contagious the energy is. I’ll be frank–the most I’ve ever been able to run without stopping is about 3 1/2 miles (on a GOOD day), but watching these runners, so determined and even CHEERFUL so close to the end of the race, was so damned inspiring I’d swear I would be able to run a marathon some day. And on Marathon Monday, I’d BELIEVE it. All kinds of people, young and old, run by, in all manners of costumes and running gear, some with face paint, others with their names markered down their legs, many with causes emblazoned across their chests and backs. Some ran with their nation’s flags and others with names of friends or loved ones they were running to honor. We’d cheer and scream out their names, their countries, the color of their t-shirts–anything to let them know we were watching, we were rooting for them, we knew they could finish. No stopping.
For me, Marathon Monday is inseparable from my memories of Boston, just as it is for many who lived there and live there. I can’t bear to think that it will now be associated with such hate and violence and pain, though I know it will always also continue to be a symbol of determination, strength, courage, and honor–now moreso than ever.
This week has been a rough one, what with Monday’s events and the complete and utter failure of our government to even begin to make progress in gun control. It’s completely frustrating, gut-wrenching, confusing, and maddening. But there will be no stopping, because, as Ice Cube once said, “Life ain’t a track meet, it’s a marathon.” In all seriousness, though, this is a reminder to myself not to give up or lose hope. We’re better than that.