"We Choose Love"
I took a trip to Boston Friday, my first in over a year. We’d driven through, but hadn’t stopped since Patriot’s Day, 2013, a day of such profound pain in our region. No, I wasn't there. But a year later, I still find it difficult to wrap myself around what happened, bombs exploding, shrapnel flying, death and catastrophic injury, rivers of blood painting the sidewalk, cities on lock-down, a shootout in the streets.
But now, I have this.
After the bombing, people came to grieve, to morn, to process, to support, and a memorial grew at the site of the explosions. Sneakers and T-shirts, signs, flowers, ribbons, candles, crucifixes, a mountain of agony and hurt and emotion growing in a place forever marked by horrific tragedy. After weeks, the city had to move the memorial to Copley Plaza. In June they disassembled it, vowing though, to keep every piece of it intact, which they did. And last week, in time for this year’s race, they resurrected pieces of the memorial in an exhibit at the Boston Public Library. When I heard this, I knew it was time to go.
You see, the Boston Marathon was a family event for me. Growing up, we lived walking distance to the half-way mark and on Patriots' Day, aka, Marathon Monday, we scampered to town and cheered on the runners, some years handing them wet sponges, sliced oranges, cups of water. As a recent college grad, I stood with friends at “Heartbreak Hill” and encouraged weary participants. As a newlywed, I stood on the top floor of my sister’s house on the old route through Ashland, growing dizzy as wave after wave of runners flowed by her house. I took my daughter to see the race...at the half-way point with my brother, at the beginning with my sister.
In spite of such happy memories, long before last year, Patriot’s Day, our quintessentially Massachusetts holiday, was marked by grief for me. When I was a child, my grandmother died early that morning, delivering my first searing, incomprehensible introduction to a sorrow so big for me then, so unfathomable, that I can compare the way it rocked my little sphere, to what I felt on September 11, 2001, and, on Patriots’ Day 2013—as if the world was picked up and shaken, tumbled upside down, pockets emptied of all comfort and all certainty except one…that life would never be the same.
Last April, when this newest, awful grief landed, I struggled to cope.
Since then, I’d wanted to honor those lost and injured, to pay tribute to this Boston that refused to bow down to terror, our proud and hopeful and forward moving city. But, I didn’t. And I needed to. I needed to get my centered self back. And for some reason, this exhibit at the library gave me the excuse, made it possible for me to make a peace with the atrocity of last spring, to reclaim my own kernel of Boston.
And so, three days before this year's race, I trudged up the steps of the subway mid-morning, walked down Boylston Street, eyeballed the blue and yellow finish line, paused at the cherry tree in front of The Forum Restaurant where one of the bombs exploded, where passersby continue to leave flowers, Friday, yellow and pink tulips in memory.
Then I crossed the street and entered the library to visit the centerpiece of sneakers with their messages of inspiration, all shapes and sizes of Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins jerseys etched in black markers with moving snippets, notes written on yellow stickies, on lined sheets, construction paper, poster board, consolation captured like floating angels, heartfelt words netted in red pen, blue, black, purple and gold. From New Jersey, Minnesota and Newtown, CT, from California and Istanbul, messages from across the world, encouraging us, hugging us, patting Boston on the back, holding the city up.
Toward the end of the display, visitors were invited to write remarks on tags and hang them on the branches of four cherry trees, and I wrote the only words that I could come up with to sum up what hovered at my core, after seeing such a moving presentation.
Afterward, I sat down and watched a slide show of the memorial as it had appeared on the street, before it was moved. So many sneakers, so many messages, so much pain and love, hope and heart. I was stunned by all the goodness, and the words written on the side of a running shoe captured what flowed like liquid inside of me, the sentence I would have written on a tag and hung on a tree, if only I had thought of it first.
“I have never loved this city more.”
And if that wasn't enough, settled as I was inside myself, with a good calm in my heart, I walked across Boston Common on my way back to the train station, and found this.
In honor of all the victims, but especially Martin Richards, Kristal Campbell, Lingzi Lu, April 15, 2013, Sean Collier April 18, 2013 and for Mary Florence O'Brien Lucas, April 21, 1969.