Boston, MA – For the past week, the city of Boston, and much of the US, remembered the attacks on the 2013 Boston Marathon and the ensuing manhunt for the two brothers who carried out the attacks. The week began with the anniversary of the attacks on April 15. Local and national leaders spoke a memorial, events were held in Copley Square (site of the attacks) and the 2014 marathon was run yesterday.
In a fitting finish to the men’s race, Kenyan-born and American-raised Meb Keflezighi became the first American male to win the race since 1983.
“As an athlete, you have dreams and today is where the dream and reality meet. I was just crying at the end,” said Keflezghi in an interview after the race. “This is probably the most meaningful victory for an American, just because of what happened. It’s Patriots Day.”
He was propelled forward by the the four people killed by the Tsarnaev brothers. Their names Martin, Sean, Krystle and Lingzi, were written in each corner of his bib. Roughly a million people lined the raceway for the estimated 36,000 professional, amateur and charity runners that competed. Increased security did not prevent a more exuberant crowd from supporting all of the runners.
It was a juxtaposition to a year ago. The greater Boston area was shut down a few days after the attacks, when Dzokhar Tsarnaev was hiding from police in Watertown. Driving out of the city in the middle of that day felt much like a post-apocalyptic movie. The red lights needlessly delayed my car as there were no others on the road through Kenmore Square, near famed Fenway Park.
A year later, Kenmore was filled with shouting people and exhausted runners trying to make the final push towards the finish line in Copley Square, less than a mile away. For Keflezghi, the mantra that came out of the tragedy turned in his mind as he covered the 26.2 miles between Hopkinton and Boston in just over 2 hours.
“Boston Strong, Boston Strong, Meb Strong, Meb Strong.”
Keflezghi was a fitting winner because of his background. At the age of twelve, he and his family fled for the US from Eritrea, the small east African nation, amid its war with Ethiopia. They settled in San Diego. From there, his running career took him to UCLA on scholarship, became a US citizen and competed in the three Olympic games. He became the first American in 27 years to win the New York Marathon, in 2009.
The story is one that is held up as quintessentially American. It is also one of good fortune. Trying to predict the life that Keflezghi would have experienced had he not come to the US is rather futile. However, it is hard to set aside the advantages that come with living in a country that is relatively stable.
The Boston Marathon bombing was proceeded by bombings in Mogadishu, Somalia that killed dozens of people. Somalia has been unstable for decades due to its civil war, which has affected its neighbors, including Eritrea. The anniversary of the Boston bombing is a reminder that such public attacks can occur anywhere in the world.
“[O]n Patriots’ Day, when I’m told up to 36,000 people will line up to start the marathon, you will send a resounding message around the world not just to rest of the world, but to the terrorists that we will never yield. We will never cower. America will never, ever, ever stand down,” said Vice President Joe Biden, during his speech at the bombing memorial in Boston.
The resilience of which Biden speaks is not unique to Boston, nor the US, nor anywhere else in the world. What stands out to me is the good fortune that the anniversaries here in the US are few and far between. For people living in Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, these kinds of incidents are a part of everyday life.
That is not to say that this is a tragedy to take lightly. It is one that should remind us of the people who have been affected most by such awful attacks. It should remind us of the things that connect us as people, not the borders that we draw on maps, or the religions we follow, or the languages we speak, or the way that we look. There is a universality to tragedy.
A better world means that events like the Boston Marathon bombing will increasingly become the exception, rather than the rule for every person on this planet.