Boston runs again

2013-04-21 14:00

A South African in Boston reports on a city lacing its takkies back on

In the centre of Boston city there’s a man armed with a huge smile and a placard, reaching out his arms as he ambles towards a middle-aged man sporting a Boston Red Sox cap.

“I’m good, thanks,” says the baseball fan.

The smiling man keeps his arms extended while his placard advertises free hugs.

Many of those passing through Boston Common sport hats of local teams – the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots – each team crest having taken on a greater meaning since the blasts on April 15.

The attack on the world’s oldest marathon claimed three lives, injured 176 and left 12 in critical condition. Among those killed was eight-year-old Martin Richard, whose father had just finished the marathon when the bombs went off.

His mother and sister are still in hospital. This week, his classmates drew pictures with chalk on the family’s driveway to commemorate their friend.

Across Boston, armed soldiers stand guard in public spaces, while armoured vehicles and an assortment of security and emergency personnel race up and down the streets. Governor Patrick Duval told Bostonians the show of force was to offer people a sense of safety and comfort.

Parallels with 9/11 sprung up almost immediately. But this is an altogether different city in a very different world.

Three hours after the bombings, Nancy Wilson and Lynne K were trying to get to their car, which was parked too close to the blast site.

In polite detail, they related being present when the bombs went off, the panic among the runners and the horrible scenes they witnessed.

Working as a volunteer medic was on Lynne’s bucket list. She’d run the marathon nearly 30?years before.

She says: “The marathon represents tradition and humanity,” then adds: “Freedom. Freedom to run.”

In the days that followed, Bostonians made their resilience visible. The running paths along the meandering shimmer of the Charles River and through the city have become increasingly congested.

Boston Marathon apparel is nearly sold out and days after the race, young and old are still proudly sporting their finishers’ medals.

Tens of thousands are already signed up to partake in this weekend’s five-mile “Run to Remember”.

President Barack Obama visited victims and delivered a stirring speech at an interfaith service, where he told Bostonians: “You will run again!”

For once, the words of motivation were hardly necessary. Boston is the birthplace of the American Revolution against English rule. This is where the names of young men who fought in the American Civil War – for North or South – adorn buildings and streets.

Longtime Boston resident Herbert Nipson says: “There’s a different mentality here from, say, the Midwest or elsewhere. People are fiercely independent and are very much about their liberty. It makes us very resilient.”

From the Obama church service, many of the crowd make their way past the metal barricades festooned with personal notes and flowers.

They pass the state troopers with their thumbs stuck in their belts, go beyond the untouched pair of purple and white running shoes and just beyond the metal barricades, down the stairs into the Arlington subway station.

The conversations in the subway flit from work troubles to school troubles and job ambitions. Some are simply a diary of a mundane day. People smile often.

“My father has a thing for giving his children surnames as second names. I use my first and middle name as my stage name,” says a young woman in a hound’s-tooth coat and bunny-eared iPhone.

She lets the name roll slowly off her tongue: “Looo-rrren-zo. The world needs more Lorenzos.”

»?Tromp is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in Boston

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