Boston gets called a lot of things, but friendly generally isn’t one of them. Ours is not a city of brotherly love, and outsiders frequently complain about the aloofness of my brethren. Patriots’ Day is the day that proves them all wrong.
A local holiday that commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War, Patriots’ Day is the day that Boston comes out to celebrate. It’s school vacation week and a state holiday. Spring is in the air. Men dressed in period costumes march to Lexington to reenact battles (and Paul Revere’s famous ride). The Red Sox play at home. Thousands of runners from across the globe descend on the city for the Boston Marathon. And thousands upon thousands come out to cheer them on. I tell people all the time that Patriots’ Day is my favorite day. It’s a day that this small and sometimes parochial city becomes truly world-class.
Runners will tell you that Boston is the marathon that you don’t want to wear headphones for. Spectators line the course from Hopkinton to Back Bay. Families sit on front lawns and watch the runners go by. Children offer oranges. The women of Wellesley College offer kisses. It seems like all of Boston is packed into the last half mile, cheering wildly as the runners take a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston for the homestretch. Five years ago I moved into an apartment just blocks from the finish line, and my sister and I started a tradition of heading there each Marathon Monday to cheer. We’d get there early to get a good spot, and yell ourselves hoarse, shouting from the moment the wheelchair athletes passed by until the number of runners slowed to a trickle.
Boston loves its marathon. In a city where neighborhood divisions run deep and racial tensions still linger, the marathon is something that everyone can get behind. As a runner, people often assume I’m training for the race when they see me out. Last year, an old man in South Boston wished me luck in the marathon as I ran along Carson Beach. A few weeks ago, I was stopped by an African-American woman in Jamaica Plain who wanted to know if I was training for the marathon. In the days leading up to the race the elite runners arrive in town and often head out on the same paths I use for my training. Imagine going to shoot hoops at your local park and having Paul Pierce show up. It’s that thrilling.
This year, I decided that rather than be a spectator, I’d get involved in the race. I signed up to volunteer, and recruited 50 friends, mostly from my running group, to man a hydration station at mile 18, in the midst of one of the marathon’s most grueling stretches. Yesterday, we made our way to Newton where we set up tables and poured enough water and Gatorade to quench the thirst of 27,000 runners. The experience was both inspiring and humbling. Runners old, and young, from Japan to Brazil to England to Kenya. People who looked like they were having the best race of their lives, and people who looked like they’d be happy to simply finish. What surprised me most was how grateful they were to us, shouting their thanks as they took the cups from our hands.
We were nearly finished cleaning up when we got word of the explosions. Many of us were planning to head to the finish line. Instead, we gathered at a friend’s apartment, watched the President on TV, let our loved ones know were were OK, and scrolled social media for updates. And just as with every other Marathon Monday, I was proud of my city. I was proud of the people who rushed towards the scene to help those injured. I was proud of residents opening their homes to stranded runners. I was proud of the people who offered money, clothes, rides, anything they could.
There’s no doubt that next year’s Boston Marathon will be the biggest race in its history. In the coming weeks, we will all find ways to cope, contribute, and honor those lost. For me, it will start with the simple act of lacing up my shoes and going for a run.