If you’ve never been to Boston on Patriots’ Day, you might not know this, but it’s the best day of the year in Boston. It’s a state holiday, spring is hitting, the Red Sox play a morning game, and thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the world for the Boston Marathon. The marathon is a 26-mile party. Every runner hears cheers from every person the whole way down the route. It is a gorgeously international event, with runners and spectators coming from all corners of the earth, filling the city and lining the marathon route. In the ultimate Patriots’ Day experience, you can go to Fenway to see the Sox, then walk out to Kenmore Square to watch the runners come through. They are tired then, they are in their last mile, but people line the route 10 and 15 deep hooting and cheering and clapping to help them through to the end. It’s amazing to watch the elite runners fly through the toughest course in the world, and just as amazing to watch the regular runners, most of them raising money for charity, people who have trained months and years to do this superhuman thing.
This didn’t just hit close to home, it hit my home.
I’m as Boston as they come. I love this town. I was born and raised here. It’s in my blood. When I was young, and my family would go away for six weeks in the summer, I would drop to the ground in Copley Square and kiss it when I got back, I’d miss it so much. My two favorite places in the world are the Boston Public Library in Copley, right at the Marathon finish line, and Fenway Park. My family and friends are teachers and nurses and firefighters and police officers and city workers and lawyers and public servants of all kinds right here in Boston.
My uncle Brian – you might have seen him on the news yesterday, or on the front page of the Globe this morning. He’s a trainer, he works in sports medicine. He loves his job as much as anyone I’ve ever met. As a lifelong lover of sports, and as a person who helps people, he found his perfect place. He works with a renowned orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital, and he’s had the opportunity to work with athletes in a wide variety of sports, all over the world. He has worked with universities’ athletic departments, with the Bay State Games, with the Boston Ballet, with USA Figure Skating and USA Track & Field, with the New England Patriots. And every year, he is one of the medical volunteers at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. They check in with every runner who crosses, seeing who needs an IV to help with dehydration, who needs first aid for cuts or chafes, who needs treatment for heat conditions, or help with leg cramps. He loves working the marathon. Many a year, I have been at the finish line, watching him jogging back and forth from the line to the medical tent, giving runners an arm, helping them to a foil poncho, a band-aid, an IV, a wheelchair.
This year, he was one of the people who ran to the site of the explosion, who helped with the on-scene triage. He spent all afternoon on the scene, doing whatever he could, with dozens and dozens of other people like him.
Close family friends, people I grew up with, who are family to me, were at the finish line to watch members of their family cross. They were not a block away from the explosions when they happened, with their one-year-old son. Blessedly, they came away unhurt.
My best friend’s mother is a nurse. She spent the 80’s working in the emergency room at City Hospital, the busiest, most chaotic ER in our city’s most violent time. Yesterday, now working at another hospital, she spent the day assisting in surgeries on victims of the explosions.
Of all the people I knew who were running, nearly all were within less than half a mile of the finish at 2:50pm yesterday, as were many other family and friends, there to cheer the runners home. It seems like a miracle that none were hurt, and a relief, but my heart is broken for those who were, because yeah, it hits home. It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to think that any of those nearly 200 people injured could have been a member of my family, or a friend.
I spent yesterday following updates from family and friends, watching the TV news, waiting to hear that everyone I know was OK, and I never shut up on Twitter all day. (Sometimes it helps to have someone to talk to).
In addition to feeling a bit like an open channel for all emotion today, I’m mostly feeling proud of how Boston has responded. First responders have trained like crazy for a mass casualty event like this, and the training showed: triage on the scene was immediate and effective, patients were rapidly distributed to hospitals, all of which were ready and waiting to treat them. (My new hero is Dr. Peter Fagenholz at MGH who gave the most boss press conference of the day yesterday. If I had any family members who were victims, his aura of calm, competence, professionalism, and stone-cold nonsense-quashing would have made me feel a lot better).
I am feeling confident about the law enforcement response. I trust their competence, their thoroughness.
Here is what I am not feeling: fear or anger.
I know that 100% safety is not achievable. I know that horrific events like this can never be completely avoided, even if we turn the whole world into a security lockdown, and that it wouldn’t be worth doing that even if they could.
I know that the people in charge of our safety are by and large competent and dedicated people. I have no doubt they did all they were supposed and I know they are devastated that this happened anyway.
I know that life is risk, and I know that that’s part of what makes it beautiful.
I know that anger doesn’t help, that calling for the blood of whoever did this terrible thing will fix nothing.
I don’t know who did this, but I know that the person who did this is the kind of person who would do this.
The kind of person who would do this wants the anger, the hotheaded response that makes villains of victims.
The kind of person who would do this wants the fear, the little worm that tells us to creep away from public events and urges us to try for the 100% security we can never have, and sacrifice the joy and freedom of days like this in trying to achieve it.
I want a much worse thing than vengeance for whoever did this: I want justice.
The worst punishment we can give to the kind of person who would do this is to investigate thoroughly, build an airtight case, and prosecute them in the full light of the law.
The worst punishment we can give them is to learn from this, but not be ruled by it, to be rational in our response and compassionate to each other.
The worst punishment we can give them is to make sure that next year, Patriots’ Day is once again the best day of the year in Boston. Just try and keep me away from the finish line.