By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn”
I don’t think it would be any exaggeration to say that Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon are as much a part of Bostonians’ identity as anything else. They are sources of pride, culture, and uniqueness. To this day, even aside from all that took place yesterday, I still look upon the day with an incredible sense of nostalgia. It was one of those rare holidays that wasn’t simply a day off from school, but a day in which we actually participated in reflecting upon the reason for the occasion.
For us, it began with an early morning wake-up from my dad every year. Seemingly aroused out of bed at the crack of dawn, we would hurry to Lexington to find our spots before the Revolutionary War re-enactment began (which you can watch by clicking here). Within moments, we would hear the sounds of drums rattling and fifes whistling, as the Red Coats marched toward the green sod that was the Lexington Green, with bayonet-mounted muskets firmly resting upon their shoulders. Face-to-face with the Lexington militiamen, the Green would soon be enveloped in smoke after an unknown participant fired a shot heard ’round the world (the expression, “the shot heard ’round the world,” has actually been ascribed to the later battle in Concord, but the one in Lexington – which came from a still-unknown person – was technically the first military engagement in the Revolutionary War).
After the re-enactment ended, we would whisk away to a parade, and then find our spot along the Marathon route in Wellesley, where we would lay our blankets upon the green grass that had been hidden for too long during the cold and snowy winter months. With sack-lunches in hand, we would soon be cheering on the thousands of wheelchair participants and runners who were still ten miles away from the finish line, and on the easy side of the Newton Hills.
It was all a grand and glorious day – a spring-time celebration of all that is great about being a native of Massachusetts: liberty, freedom, independence, history, perseverance. Not lost on me then, nor definitely now, was the prophetic significance to which the day pointed. Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts marks the beginning of a nation that is unlike any other – a nation that values freedom more than anything else; a freedom that came (and still comes) at the greatest price.
Even now, though I no longer live in Massachusetts, I try to participate in the Patriot’s Day events as much as possible. If I’m away, I try to watch the Marathon on TV (or internet, as the case may be), and whenever I can, I attend the Marathon in person. What makes this all the more sobering, however, is that our Marathon location has taken a ten-mile journey, and instead of watching it from Wellesley, we watch it from the finish line – just across the street from where the second blast occurred yesterday.
Truthfully, witnessing a Marathon (especially from the finish line) is one of the most inspiring experiences one can participate in. There are no losers. There are no enemies. There is simply a mass of people both participating and, perhaps just as significantly, cheering. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. It’s an incredible lesson in cooperation. Some of the most poignant scenes I have witnessed have come when runners, after laboring through 26 miles of intense exertion, have either stopped or slowed down to a walk just blocks away from the finish line, only to have thousands of people in the crowd almost will the runner over the remaining two hundred yards.
This is why the events of yesterday stand as a sobering and stark contrast to all that Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon symbolize – a stark contrast to what America itself stands for. This country, as prophetically foretold, arose as a haven of freedom; a response to the currency of fear and terror that epitomized the world prior to its inception.
Perhaps more than anything else, however, yesterday’s events stand as an important reminder to us that freedom comes at a cost – and just because that cost can sometimes be steep, we must not back down from its constant pursuit. As I have listened to some of the rhetoric that has been vollied around in response to what took place yesterday, I worry that the freedom in which these heinous crimes were contrived will be the ultimate collateral damage; the greatest casualty that results from irresponsible beneficiaries of that freedom (I heard one “terrorist expert” say on the radio yesterday that the only true protection against these types of events is to have a “totalitarian government”).
Students of prophecy know, of course, that that reality will one day come, when safety will be valued more than freedom. But today, and tomorrow, and the next day, we stand here, as Patriots, and lovers of freedom, and unitedly say: not now. Not today.
Postscript: The above pictures were all taken by me from the last time I attended the Marathon – back in 2008. The last picture features Dick and Rick Hoyt – local legends, long-time runners of the Boston Marathon, and owners of one of the most inspiring stories you’ll ever encounter. I remember with great fondness cheering this incredible father-son team on every year. To view an extremely uplifting version of their story, check out this YouTube video. And here. Warning: have your Kleenex handy. To read their story, click here.
To read an excerpt on what it might look like to one day have our freedoms taken from us in America, check this out.