One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen was on the morning of September 11, 2006.
It was the fifth anniversary of the tragedy and I was in a security line in lower Manhattan, silent beneath the specter of fallen buildings and a blanket of radiant blue sky. I was readying to go down to the memorial site.
There, construction had only recently begun of the Freedom Tower which would come to fill the enormous canopy. A half-decade out, it was only rebar and fresh-poured concrete. Where two buildings once stood were Costco parking-lot sized flats of groomed dirt.
Two makeshift reflecting pools were surrounded by children, many of whom were too young to remember parents they’d lost. They were school age now, wandering and wondering where to put the wreaths and flowers and drawings and photos they were there to deposit. Many just simply walked in circles and doubled back to their mothers.
The growing line next to me was a little different demographic, you could tell by the way people were dressed. The attire of those heading towards ground zero was memorial appropriate. Gray slacks and white blouses or dress shirts. Scuffed shoes polished to gather the dust and gravel.
The people next to me were all airbrushed flag and eagle shirts, jorts and fanny packs. As I got closer to the first security check, I saw the queue adjacent was for a guy selling refrigerator magnets of two burning buildings. “9/11” was stamped on the top and “Never Forget” on the bottom.
The street vendor was soon chased away by New York’s finest but not before several hundred made way with their reminders. I imagine some of these magnets still clinging to the fridges of America, pinning to the stainless facade a picture of a 7-year-old niece holding a soccer ball with her Jack ‘o Lantern grin. Or maybe next to a recipe clipped on there. Maybe it’s the flimsy kind of magnet that can’t hold anything and simply slinks to the bottom of the fridge and 9/11 is all but forgotten except for when the juice is spilled and it is, once more, at eye level.
We don’t have ruins in this country. We’re still too young and a still little too naive. We don’t want them yet. We want to build back higher, faster stronger — and we want the healing process to start yesterday.
Monday morning, just one year after a bombing took four lives and injured hundreds more near the finish, the expected crowd turnout at the Boston Marathon will top one million, the most ever.
For the 118th time, 36,000 qualifying runners — a near-record number of registrants — will toe the line and take the 26.2-mile jaunt to Boylston Street in Copley Square.
Running is a different sport. It is the only one that can be done in solitary with a stadium’s worth of participants. There are no mulligans. You can’t get ahead in the count. Water and oxygen is available on the sideline but you have to take it in game. The action doesn’t stop until you do.
There are no time outs in running.
It is also the only sport where everyone has an equal shot, the mighty run with the meek. From the unstoppable Kenyans, all sinew and stride equaling that of four of yours to the modest high school principal to the single mother of three. From the guy who comes and fixes your cable to the woman who takes your order. There are runners amongst us, everywhere. Folks who are up before the trash guys or in bed after the late shows. In weather that would make a postman blink. The ones who skip happy hour drinks or long work lunches and opt instead for a shake and a quick six.
It takes a lot to just get to the starting line at Boston; seven-and-a-half-minute miles to be exact if you’re in my age group. And no, that’s not one seven-and-a-half-minute mile.
That’s 26.2 strung back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to …well, you get it.
It is the dream race if you’re American and a stamp of pride on your city for the last century and change if you’re a Bostonian. The memorials for the victims of last year’s bombings have been many this week. The Red Sox Sunday evening payed tribute to Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Officer Sean Collier who were killed last year.
Names that have been woven into the city’s fabric moreso even than any previous Boston winner.
It is only my hope that the million-plus who run or cheer every last breath from their lungs today lean into the pain a little bit. Because they’re alive and because they can and because they willed it to happen.
Not because we’ve healed.
If there’s any event that begs its participants to honor the fallen by getting up and getting out and getting moving again, it’s the Boston Marathon. The scars of those affected and that day are always somewhere, even if they’re not on the outside — and that’s something to remember.
We are Boston Strong. But we are also much much more.