NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

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Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Marcelle Dube . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

If it's April, this must be Boston!

It's April and in our house that means it's time for the Boston Marathon!



This will be the sixth time my husband has run Boston, and I've been along every step of the way--well, almost every step, if you leave out the actual running of the marathon. If you've been lucky enough to experience the Boston Marathon, you've been lucky indeed.

Boston, the City on a Hill

At my first visit, I'd been excited about experiencing Boston, a city I'd wanted to see since childhood. I wasn't disappointed. The narrow cobbled streets conjured the past. Had John Adams and cousin Sam tramped along this very passage? 



Trudging over the North End, I thought of Lovecraft, whose short story Pickman’s Model took place here. Lovecraft had described the area as a confusing warren of twisting streets and  subterranean passageways.

At Copp's Hill Burying Ground, I found the Tomb of the Mathers and thought of those stiff-necked 
Puritans, who searched for God and found demons and witches instead.

Boston is a touchstone for American history and literature, and each year I return, I discover new points of contact.

A Little History

Like so many great things, the Boston Marathon came from humble beginnings. Inspired by the revival of the marathon at the Paris Olympics, the 1897 race had a handful of runners.

Boston Marathon, 1910
No surprise, the early races were an exclusive gig for white guys. Women didn't make an appearance until 1966 when the bandit runner Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb crashed the stag party. Not allowed to officially enter the race, Bobbi had hidden in the bushes, just past the officials. After the starting gun, she shot out and  joined the race, finishing with an unofficial time of 3:21:40

Next year Kathrine Switzer kicked it up a notch. Sly Kathrine registered as K. V. Switzer. All went well until halfway through the race when the officials became aware of Kathrine's presence. One enterprising official attempted to run Switzer down and forcibly remove her from the race. No problem, K. V. reached the finish line with a time of 4:20:00. This didn't impress the Boston Athletic Association director who groused:

"Women can't run in the Marathon because the rules forbid it. Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos. I don't make the rules, but I try to carry them out....If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her."

Women were formally invited to the party in 1972 and nowadays days the Marathon is an inclusive


event that welcomes people of all stripes, including some incredibly fast speedsters on wheels.

Which is as it should be--things always seem to work better when everyone's invited to the part.

The modern Marathon is a triumph of planning, logistics, and optimism.


In the predawn, 30,000 runners are transported to the start in Hopkinton where they wait in holding pens (sort of like cattle) until their appointed start. The route winds its way through several New England towns--from Scream Tunnel at Wellesley College to the heartbreaking hills of Newton.
Standing on Boylston Street, I learned that there's nothing like the constant roar of the crowd as the endless stream of runners poured into the finishing straight. There is something indescribably beautiful in the act of people coming together for a common purpose--runners ran, people cheered, and the world seemed like a pretty good place.

For every year save one, I was on Boylston, cheering home the runners, but in 2013 I had a publishing deadline. So rather than watch the race, I spent the day cooped up in my room, tapping away on my laptop. At around three-thirty, I  called it a day, expecting that my husband would be back soon.

We were staying in a small hotel that was within walking distance of the finish. The place billed itself as a hotel, but it had the feel of a boarding house, with four floors of creaky stairways and lots of dark corners. Lovecraft would have liked it, I think--I certainly did.

I went to the lobby for some coffee and was pouring a fresh cup when a couple rushed in through the front door. They were older and the woman had one hand clutched to her throat. The desk clerk and I stared at them--something was wrong.

"There's been an explosion," the woman gasped, hurrying inside. "People...people are running."

"A bomb?" I asked.

Both she and her husband answered at once--something about an explosion at the finish.

"The finish? But my husband's there," I said idiotically. "Are people hurt?"

No one answered. I turned away and climbed the stairs, two at a time. My mind was in a kind of freeway as thoughts fought for primacy. I knew that  my husband had brought his cell with his belongings. At least I'd be able to call.

Back in my room, I dialed my husband's cell--no answer. I told myself that he was probably still in the recovery tent and hadn't have picked up his stuff yet. Or maybe he'd had a bad race and was still on the course, though in the back of mind, I knew there might be another reason why he hadn't answered, but I pushed that thought aside.

I was dialing when there was a knock on the door. It was my husband, safe and sound. He'd been lumbering up the stairs when I'd called. He had been walking back to the hotel when the bombs exploded. The pieces of my world came back together--others weren't so lucky.

Later it occurred to me that if I hadn't been writing, I'd have been standing near the finish, as I'd done in years past. For some time, I've believed that writing saved my life, but not literally. Still, there's no point in dwelling on what might have been.

Life turns on a dime. We think the ground is stable, and most of the time it is. But there are plenty of slippery bananas peels around--one unlucky step and we fall. And sometimes we fall hard.


When we returned to Boston the following year. I was fearful that fear might have changed this glorious race. Although there was an increased police presence, the joyous mood remained. For me, the icing on the cake was when the great American runner Meb Keflizighi won the men's title.
Meb Keflizighi, 2014

Tonight I'll raise a glass of Sam Adams beer and toast the Boston Marathon--an American classic that brings out the best of us, the very best.



4 comments:

jean harrington said...

A beautiful tribute to the Boston Marathon, Daryl. Thank you for reminding us of how much we take for granted and how easily our blessings can be lost.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Cool post, Daryl. Thanks for sharing.

Rita said...

Thank you so much for sharing. We are forever changed by these events. Getting though is the greatest testament.

Cathy Perkins said...

I have so many friends who've run Boston (alas, I'm not fast enough to qualify) and remember the stunning heartbreak of that finish line bombing. Raising a glass of Sam Adams along with you to celebrate Boston, the runners and the spirit that perseveres no matter what.

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