Monday is Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, commemorating the battles of Concord and Lexington. In Boston the day is marked by its quintessential Marathon. Last year what had historically been a day of international cohesion, became a day of fear and battling the odds of survival. The intended effort to shake the Boston community made its mark, but Boston remained strong and came together in a great show of solidarity. This year the city is galvanized and ready to begin anew, back on its feet and poised to stand up against any opposition.
The Boston Marathon, now in its 118th year, is the world’s oldest marathon, taking place the third Monday in April. Every year an average of 27,000 runners compete for $806,000 in prize money in the 26.2-mile race, which spans from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to Boston’s Copley Square. In addition to the categories of men’s and women’s open running, and men’s and women’s masters, there is also a section for push rim wheelchair. This year organizers expect a 33 percent increase: 36,000 participants, which include the nearly 6,000 runners who did not complete last year due to extenuating circumstances.
The race is truly an international event, with competitors coming from every U.S. state and 90 countries in the world. In recent years, winners have hailed from Ethiopia, Kenya, Japan, France, Canada, Italy, and the Russian Federation, as well as the U.S. The mood in Boston is one of anticipation, exhilaration, and unmitigated joy.
This year the Boston Marathon is significant because last year, at 2:50pm, after 75 percent of the runners had completed, and runners were still coming in, two bombs exploded near the finish line, one after the other. (See video below.) The four people killed and 260 injured included spectators as well as runners. Due to the bombing, many of those injured still experience nerve damage in their legs and 16 people lost legs. Among those killed were an international college student from China and an 8-year-old boy who were observing the Marathon. The oldest that died was only 29 and was remembered for her smile and her kindness.
What was most shocking for the Boston community was that one of its signature events had been marked by violence. For one week last year, the entire city and metropolitan area were in fear while watching the drama unfold, culminating in a shelter-in-place mandate, a virtual lockdown. Within one week, two bomber brothers were captured – one dead, one alive. Shortly afterwards, the motto Boston Strong was developed, meaning that Boston was unified against the odds of anyone who would detract from this important event.
After the apprehension of the bombers, it was determined that the brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev were refugees from Chechnya and were Muslim. This incited fear in Muslims living in Boston because they were afraid of being targeted for racial profiling. In the days following the bombing, religious and political leaders gave public talks and held services to help to heal the emotional hurt and grief so that no one would be faced with their fear and confusion alone.
Members of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian communities exemplified bridging differences between them by recognizing common humanity and hope for the future. Temple Israel Boston Rabbi Ronne Friedman spoke at the Interfaith Boston prayer service for Bombing Victims of the need to stand together. He talked about the shared commitment to repair and renew the health and well-being of Boston and the world. Chair of the New England Interfaith Council and Civil Rights Outreach Director for the American Islamic Congress, Nasser S. Weddady, also spoke at the service (See video below.)
A Pew Research survey on Islam and violence, taken two weeks after the Boston Marathon, found attitudes polarized among respondents: 62 percent of Republicans were quoted as saying that Islam encourages violence more than other religions. Results of the survey also showed that 45 percent of those who took the survey said that Muslims in the U.S. face more discrimination than any other group in society. However, public views about Islam in general have not changed much in the aftermath following the Boston Marathon bombings. Most Bostonians have demonstrated understanding that targeting individuals is never a solution to fear.
Since the 2013 Boston Marathon, many runners have publicly expressed the importance to them of, more than ever, participating in this year’s race. Some are combining their running with raising funds for individuals who faced hospitalization and rehabilitation. Moreover, those who were unable to complete the race last year expressed a need for resolution and are planning to run again this year.
For those who are mourning the loss of their loved one, the one-year anniversary will bring back the pain and the rawness. As Boston-based journalist and author Anita Diamant tells, the sense of loss is akin to a place where one remains while experiencing the acuteness of the absence. One must also learn when and how to move through the grief and fear in order to face new challenges, rather than to be immobilized by them. When the observers watch the race this coming Monday, it will be like an embracing community, coming together to stand in the presence of the loss, and ready to reach towards the hope of tomorrow.
Every year about 500,000 people, including the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Massachusetts, are expected to watch the race. This year, due to an outpouring of support for the race and the runners, that number has doubled: 1 million. Runners who could not complete last year are guaranteed entry to this year’s race. Boston is determined to show its strength in beating the odds and going against any negativity that may have resulted from the bombing.
Boston Marathon bombing, April 15, 2013:
Chair of the New England Interfaith Council and Civil Rights Outreach Director for the American Islamic Congress, Nasser S. Weddady, spoke at the Interfaith Boston prayer service for Bombing Victims, April 18, 2013:
By Fern Remedi-Brown
Pearson Education’s Info Please
Boston Athletic Association
Pew Research, Center for the People & the Press
BBC World Service
Boston Marathon Bombing Interfaith Service 2013
Chair of the New England Interfaith Council and Civil Rights Outreach Director for the American Islamic Congress, Nasser S. Weddady at the Boston Marathon Bombing Interfaith Service 2013
Rabbi Ronne Friedman, from Temple Israel Boston at the Boston Marathon Bombing Interfaith Service 2013
President Obama’s speech for the Boston Marathon Bombing 2013, WBUR radio