Don’t read this if you’re tired of the non-stop coverage of the Marathon bombing. Don’t read it if you’re not touched in some way by the tragedy that befell individual runners and bystanders or disturbed by the assault on our community. Have there been efforts to capitalize on the grief and memorialization of the event? The profit center that Boston Strong tee shirts and other memorabilia have become? The media efforts to outdraw the competition? Yes, yes and yes. Obviously.
But count me among those townies who, since childhood, have gone to the running route, cheered on the travails and triumphs of the winners and the struggling also-rans, felt the communal experience of an event drawing people from around the world (back then, it was the Finnish and Japanese who came to best the American runners) and, without being able to put it into words, thrilled to the experience of a sharing and upbeat crowd. Last year it was: how could they do that to our town?
Randomness heightens the sense of horror. Being in the right place at the wrong time. But are these victims heroes? They don’t think so. Jeff Bowman had both his legs blown off a year ago. He told WBUR he is not a hero, that he is an ordinary guy. Other victims have echoed his sentiments. They are overcoming adversity, clenching their teeth, battling their pain, showing resilience, and moving forward. It’s what my father did when he lost his leg decades ago. The survivors will be in recovery for a long time, perhaps forever.
Are the police, firefighters and other responders heroes? Or are they just doing what their jobs require? They, too, are often dismissive of the term hero. Even Lt. Ed Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy would probably have said they were just doing their jobs when they perished in the recent Beacon Street fire. Perhaps their heroism shone when they decided to become firefighters in the first place. Or police officers. Or soldiers, at least some of them.
Hero, to me, implies acting on behalf of others with disregard for one’s own well-being. Such were the people who ran toward the explosions last year, rather than trying to flee the scene (which is what I probably would have done.) Carlos Arredondo, the man in the cowboy hat, is such a hero. He had tried to kill himself years before when his son Alexander, a Marine, was killed in Iraq. His youngest son Brian did commit suicide three years ago. The senior Arredondo lived and happened to be near the finish line. Disregarding his own safety, he helped to save Jeff Bowman’s life. He reached beyond the burden of his own familial losses and has become a symbol of courage and resilience.
But what does “Boston Strong” symbolize? Again, for some, it’s blatant commercialization. Others deride it as a cover for increased security regulations that undermine the very peace and freedom that are other core traditions of Patriots Day. But, for me, it validates some of the good things about our community, including a commitment to pull together, to restore the sense of who we are or at least aspire to be. Resilience. Generosity. Courage. Determination. Are we all capable of those characteristics all of the time? Of course not. But it’s what we hope to pull out from deep within ourselves when circumstances call upon us to do so. When tragedy befalls us, we hope we can measure up. Events like the one-year anniversary or the evocation of Boston Strong give voice to the ideals that we hope to realize.
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