I was underwater in Honduras when the bombs went off, floating in silent oblivion while my city reeled.
I had just returned from a day snorkeling, wrapped in that warm glow of serenity that finds me when my feet are caked in sand, my hair is thick with salt, my skin tingles from sun, and my nostrils dance with the smell of sweat and sunscreen.
I absentmindedly opened email while my brain was still underwater with the eagle rays. Surprised at the number of messages that had piled up, I immediately clicked one from my German friend. Without reading his full note, the words “are you ok?” and “bombing in Boston” popped out and suddenly the eagle ray and Honduras seemed very far away.
That was 6 pm on Marathon Monday. Attacked during the best sporting event of the year. A day when all Bostonians, notoriously hot headed sports fans, come together to support those crazy, talented, determined men and women who unite in a common effort to traverse 26.2 miles on foot as fast as possible.
It is a day of great struggles, a day of great accomplishments, a day of great pain and great memories and great success. And for once in a Boston arena, there are no great winners and no great losers, only great athletes.
Two days later I boarded a plane from Honduras to Miami to Boston to England to Doha to the Seychelles. I touched down for just 3 hours in Boston, long enough to sob with relief, hug my mother, collect a new bag, and watch the strong flexed arm of Cape Cod disappear into the sunset as I jetted east.
The next 3 days of transit to my rustic research base left me in an unintentional media black out, receiving only clips of information from strangers and foreigners. I learned of the manhunt that took place on the street of a childhood friend from an inquisitive British girl. “Have you ever heard of ‘Watertown’?” she wondered.
I wanted to grab them all and shake them.
Of course I have.
This is my city.
People wanted to know everything but no amount of talking could truly explain the feeling of watching that familiar yellow and blue finish line smeared red.
“I grew up at mile 16” didn’t quite capture it. “I used to play on that street in Watertown” wouldn’t do. “My family usually volunteers at the finish line” fell short. I tried to explain it, my throat thick with emotion. I became a bit of a spectacle as news reached the island in drips and drops and people waited for my reaction. It was lonely and isolating and my homesickness skyrocketed.
They just didn’t get it.
How could they get it?
If you haven’t grown up in this city and watched your aunts and uncles and idols run this race, how could you possibly get it?
I swelled with pride as we Bostonians picked up and carried on. It was a strange thing to go through, watching the city recover from a beach bungalow 8,250 miles away, surrounded by strangers who had never heard of Boston. But I knew we would recover.
Anyone who grew up here knows that. Our state silhouette is a bulging bicep. We are opinionated and stubborn. We drive like jerks and we root root root for the home team. We toast our successes and drown our sorrows. We brandish our thick skin and we soldier on.
Always, we soldier on.
Even still, I marvel at the strength. The strength of my city and the strength of the victims and the strength of strangers saving strangers. Every year, I am reminded of that as the third Monday in April rolls around.
Of course we are Boston Strong, that is a given. But then, there is something so much deeper. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on as I received flashes of media footage over the weeks and months following the bombings. Something there that I wasn’t quite seeing. A shimmer over the strength.
It eluded me until last spring.
It was my first day running along the Charles River in shorts. Daffodils shot up, a spring breeze ruffled tree buds, and the river whirled with local rowers. I felt a freedom long forgotten after months and months of yet another run with all of my layers.
The freedom carried my bare legs along until I was veritably flying. That sensation almost just barely made the winter worth it. It is was verdant spring at its purest, green with hope and honesty. And then it hit me.
It is not our strength that sets us apart, it is our hope.
After all, what is strength without hope?
We are a city of strength, yes. But at our very core, we are a city of hope.
Founded by men hoping for change, we take our stubborn strength and demand for freedom from our ancestors. We are strong enough to endure a New England winter, but the mistress keeping us warm on cold nights is not strength but hope. Hope for warmer days and greener pastures. Hope for blue skies and calm waters. Hope for a life waiting to be lived.
Hope allows our strength to blossom. It is hope for a better time, for a new milestone, for a great success that keeps us putting one foot in front of the next, mile after mile. When strength falters, it is hope that bolsters and courage that prevails.
On that Monday in April, 2013, two men attacked Boston at it’s heart. It was personal, going after us on the most joyous day of the year. The marathon brings our city together with the purest form of hope and strength, of courage and fortitude. We gather annually as spring blooms and winter ends to celebrate the power of this hope.
They attacked us, yes. But they did not destroy us. On that day, when hope burst from every tired runner and enthusiastic spectator, our city was ripe with strength. We dug into a reserve that, once tapped, could never be ignored. They attacked us, yes. But they did not destroy us.
They reminded us of our hope for a greater future and in turn we found a strength we will never forget.
So all you runners out there, keep hoping. For with hope will come a strength that will carry you through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, into our fair city, and across that great yellow and blue finish line.