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A Marathon Monday Reflection

On April 8, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 charges he faced for the devastation he and his brother Tamerlan caused at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon nearly two years earlier. Now the younger Tsarnaev is fighting for his life in court (the elder was shot and killed in the manhunt that followed the bombings) as prosecutors have pressed onward, calling for the death penalty.

We’ve all heard the same rallying cries and witnessed the same tear-jerking, inspirational moments since the Tsarnaevs executed their bewilderingly heinous plot: from the average person on the street exclaiming “Boston is strong, you can’t break our will,” to 17,000-plus Bruins fans belting out the national anthem in the team’s first home game after the bombings, to David Ortiz taking over the mic at Fenway Park and defiantly declaring, “This is our fucking city!”

But it’s been two years, and every Bay Stater's favorite Monday is still veiled in the cloak of 2013’s nightmare. When you search “Boston Marathon” and look at the results, this is the first thing you see:

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Photo Courtesy of Google

When there’s a tragedy, you don’t just move on. The victims from that day will be commemorated each year. When a relative dies, family members bring flowers to their loved one’s grave in remembrance on that day every year thereafter. Take the case of Columbine High School, which was closed on Monday (the same day as the marathon), to commemorate the 16-year anniversary of the deadly shootings that claimed the lives of twelve students and one teacher. These memories and horrible events don’t just fade into history after a certain number of years.

Bostonians found themselves in a tough spot in 2013. People have committed unforgivable acts of terrorism in American history before, but never on a day like Marathon Monday, a day of such public magnitude and joy. These were uncharted waters.

The thought process for most people probably followed something along these lines: Marathon Monday is supposed to be a day of celebration, right? We can’t let a couple of evil brothers ruin our tradition; doing that would mean we’re caving in, waving the white flag at terrorism. But at the same time, we can’t just pretend nothing ever happened, because something did happen -- something unspeakably bad happened -- and doing nothing to remember it would be turning a cowardly blind eye to the victims and their families.

So what did Boston do this year and last year? Organizers scrambled around for months to put on an unforgettable event; runners trained inexhaustibly, running enthusiastically come race-time; the rest of us cheered until our vocal chords swelled to the size of a shoe. All in the name of honoring the lives of Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and 8-year-old Martin Richard, as well as the other 264 victims who survived.

We discovered that celebration and remembrance, far from being mutually exclusive, form a powerful duo. At mile marker 21, students, families, faculty and staff lined Commonwealth Avenue in support of the marathoners, shouting words of encouragement and commingling with one another in excitement. It’s the only time of the year that BC students are excited to get up at 6:30 in the morning; Marathon Monday is like Christmas for college students.

Over the past two years, Bostonians have responded admirably, just as we knew they would. Like September 11, 2001, we’ll always remember what happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon. But unlike 9/11, Marathon Monday is also a day of festivity, where we celebrate the coming of springtime and the extraordinary power of human endurance. That second part, human endurance, only serves to further affirm our obligation to continue celebrating Patriot’s Day. We’re not going to forget what happened in 2013, and we shouldn’t. But the city of Boston is strong. Its people are strong. And, like the runners who push through seemingly intolerable amounts of pain in the stretch to the finish line, the city of Boston and its annual race will endure.

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