Monday, April 21, 2014

A Letter to my Friends in Boston

Walking down Boylston on Sunday and the sight breaks my heart: the Old South Church, barricaded.

It's Boston, it's Easter, and the church is blocked. Maybe, I think, this is what it's come to: for one day a year, Boston in Belfast in the nineties.

 ...but then three minutes later and half a block down, the Library.

And my heart mends a little, for I remember that Boston's values are my values. Surely this what we fought for, all those years ago; surely this is the best of us. Everything I love is in that building: knowledge, learning, beauty, hope, art. For all of us, for free. It's striking to me, these two scenes, but it's so often this way with life: the contrasts sit impossibly side by side. The juxtaposition reveals the beauty. (It's my eternal problem with Los Angeles: beauty-on-beauty doesn't juxtapose so good.)

 A year ago, we were all sorely tempted to conclude that belief in religion, art (or anything) is silly--good shit happens, bad shit happens; the good people lose their legs, the bad people are protected, and it all just sort of keeps happening until we die and, presumably, it all stops. But art and religion both say: no. Hard as it is to see sometimes, there is an order here. There is a meaning. There is a point.

And if you look for it, maybe the meaning is here, at the finish line: this iconic, city-defining event that was the sight of such tragedy... is a marathon.

I know a little bit about this. My brother is running the marathon today; I've run a couple myself, years back. Why has this event touched runners so much, especially those in this city? Because it's their home town, sure, and it's The Marathon, of course-- but there's something more.

While runners are by and large a happy, geeky lot, a joyful rainbow of sexes and sizes and colors, a lot of runners who either live in or hail from Boston are (myself included) of Irish Catholic stock. And here's one thing you need to know about the Irish Catholic: we tend not to be the largest, or the brawniest. We don't hit the grand slam. We don't throw the knockout punch.

But we sure can run. Our gift is in putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again and again and again and again.

 In other words, we endure. The marathoner's glory is not in the perfect pitch, the perfect swing, the perfect shot-- It is in finding the endurance to finish. This is what we do, we Irish Catholics: we endure because we become stronger than what challenges us-- sometimes just barely, but in matters of endurance, just barely is enough.

And as a region of Endurers, everyone in New England is a marathoner at heart. No one has to "explain" a marathon to a New Englander, and if they tried, it'd go something like this: "…you want me to do WHAT? Wake up at the crack of dawn, in the freezing cold, and go run like twenty miles-- and once I get there I gotta run six MORE? Ahhh, Christ, what the hell -- let's get on with it. Oh Sweet Jesus this is gonna suck." And, of course, we'd all do it again next year.

If you're not one of us, all I can say is: don't ask.

To those who perpetrated (or now find inspiration in) last year's events, I have a news flash: it didn't work. Boston survived you. And walking around the city yesterday it became clear to me that Bostonians, and runners, are also beginning to thrive.

I saw it everywhere. People are smiling. People are hopeful. The sun is out. The spirit is back. Daffodils in shop windows everywhere, delicate and tissue-thin, yet strong enough to survive months of winter and push their way through frozen ground.

 If I ever see Dzokhar, I'll tell him that. I'll tell him this too:

You never really stood a chance. Not here, against a city full of marathoners. See, all you brought this place was hardship-- and we own hardship. We cry through it, we laugh through it; while it wounds us, we learn to find pride, and sometimes even a kind of beauty, in the scars.

Mostly, though… whether they be real or artificial, we keep putting one foot in front of the other. Hot days or cold, good days or bad. And you know what? Sometimes it just sucks, and we don't see the point. But we do it. Again and again and again and again and again. (Sometimes it's even fun.) And before you know it, young man, you'll have faded into the rearview of our lives, a sad footnote to a glorious day in this city.

And you? You'll just be an another Old Man Still In Federal Prison.

 Say Hi to Whitey for us.

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