Imagine the best thing from your childhood: Visiting Kennywood, perhaps, or family outings to Light Up Night. Something you and the entire family did every year and that became a tradition. Something uniquely Pittsburgh that people from other cities might never fully appreciate, as much as they might find it quaint or fun.
Now imagine someone took two pressure cookers full of nails and planted them in a crowd at this sacred family event, with the intent of maiming and killing people gathered to celebrate something fun and wonderful. On purpose. Can you grasp the sense of violation you'd feel, even if you weren't there when the bombs went off, even if you hadn't been there for several years?
For me, a Bostonian who has embraced Pittsburgh as her adopted home, I watched Monday's events at the Boston Marathon with a sense of utter helplessness. I watched smoke billowing around familiar landmarks in my beloved city, as pictures of terrified people running from the scene of the explosion started to emerge. I thought about how many times I had walked that stretch of Boylston Street that was now smeared with blood and remnants from the explosion. I remembered the year my family and I went to the finish line where the mayhem happened Monday, on a brilliantly clear day that was eerily similar.
That's what the Boston Marathon is: Something uniquely Boston. Even if you've never run the race, even if you've never run a race in your life and never will, if you are from Boston, you've been to a marathon, and probably more than one.
Lots of major cities have marathons, but in Boston and across Massachusetts, Marathon Monday is a community festival, a day that has Revolutionary War significance, a special early Red Sox game, a day that happens to have a running race as its centerpiece and main attraction. It is always the third Monday in April, Patriots Day, the day marking the 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord. What better way to commemorate the spirit that makes Boston Boston than to recognize its origins, our country's origins, with a day-long event? Just about everyone has the day off for this Massachusetts holiday. It's special, being part of this little Bay State club.
So if you're not from Boston, it's hard to understand what a desecration it is for someone to attack the Boston Marathon.
From the time I was little, I remember going to the marathon. I remember being in Hopkinton for the start of the race and marveling at how long it took all the runners to pass. I remember as a college student being at Cleveland Circle, offering orange slices and cups of water to runners as my friends and I enjoyed some ... slightly less hydrating beverages. This is completely normal Boston Marathon behavior: Offering food and drink to complete strangers and cheering them on along their grueling test of physical endurance.
Twenty-six miles is no joke, and the crowd along the marathon route is respectful of the awesome feat the runners are attempting. And I remember so many runners: Uta Pippig, Johnny Kelly, Dick and Rick Hoyt, Rosie Ruiz, Bill Rogers, Joan Benoit (later Joan Benoit Samuelson). I did not have to Google any of those names, but you should, because they are part of the history of the Boston Marathon.
And now, sadly, so are Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, and Sean Collier.
A lot has been written about how resilient Bostonians are. Completely true. Another of the best traits of my hometown? We know how to throw a party (or, more accurately in Boston, a "pahty"). The Boston Marathon is one big pahty, welcoming people from around the country and around the world to our little corner. As President Barack Obama said this week, year after year, Boston welcomes students, performers and immigrants of all countries to its mix. Every Marathon Monday, Boston really is the Hub of the Universe it fancies itself to be, and everyone takes part in the celebration.
And while I have no doubt whatsoever that the city where I grew up will recover from this over time, my heart aches as I think about how next year's marathon and future Marathon Mondays will be affected. Will spectators be able to connect directly with the runners, or will they be held at a security-determined distance? Will parents remember the gap-toothed grin of Martin Richard and think twice before bringing their kids to watch the race? What will the marathon look like in 2014 and beyond, and will this act of cowardly violence change it?
A lot of people associate the Neil Diamond song "Sweet Caroline" with the Boston Red Sox (at least those people unconnected to Pitt), and they think of it as a Boston theme song. I've never been a huge fan of that song, to be perfectly honest, and it doesn't really say anything about Boston itself.
To me, the truest anthem of Boston is The Standells' 1966 song "Dirty Water" (you may recall Boston Harbor hasn't always been the cleanest body of water, hence the song's title), which has the line: "I love that dirty water ... Boston, you're my home."
Despite its flaws, its faults, its inability to pronounce the 18th letter of the alphabet properly, I love that dirty water, that hard-edged friendliness, that devotion to the Red Sox, the open-armed welcome I always receive whenever I return. My heart aches for my hometown, but I know it's going to be OK. I'll be at next year's marathon, whatever it looks like, because now, I can't stay away.
I love that dirty water ... awww, Boston, you're my home.
Kim Lyons:(email@example.com, 412-263-1241, Twitter: @socialkimly).