Today I ran in the BAA 10K, put on by the same group that sponsors the Boston Marathon. The route is from Boston Common out Commonwealth Avenue to the BU campus and back, through some beautiful areas of Back Bay. I was psyched to beat my goal on a hot day.
Before the race there were several big banners displayed with messages of support to Boston from different marathons across the country, and of course a moment of silence before the start. After the race I went over to Copley Square to see the spontaneous memorial to the victims of the Marathon bombing and subsequent attacks. I hadn’t been there and knew it was going to be dismantled in a couple of days.
The memorial stands out because of all the running shoes that have been left there as tributes, starting with Marathon runners the day of the bombing and accumulating since then. There are hundreds of pairs, some inscribed to Boston, and many bibs from the Marathon, from the Race to Remember to honor fallen law enforcement officers, and other events. I know even as a semi-runner I’ve been very motivated to keep going since this happened, and the shoes testify to how many others share this feeling.
There is also the more general, less running-focused memorial to the four people who were killed at the race or afterwards. This part of the memorial is more like what springs up at the side of the road or on sidewalks after someone has died. Apart from all the law enforcement badges around the image of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, there are teddy bears, handwritten notes, religious texts, Rubiks Cubes, and other relics that speak to the American desire to remember (in part) through stuff. The “FEEL BETTER” banner in the background is also something you wouldn’t see in, say, Portugal.
I heard a good WBUR show last month talking about the phenomenon of temporary/spontaneous memorials and how different this is than the typically very slow process of developing permanent, formal memorials to tragic events. The city has to figure out which of these fairly damaged tributes are worth saving, and how or whether to include them in whatever permanent memorial is developed.
Since the bombings/attacks, the “Boston Strong” theme has become pretty widespread, with some suggesting it has gotten away from the original intent–perseverance and community in the face of violent attacks–and become cheapened by being used as a sports rallying cry or with other, less memorial intentions. Adrienne Rich might have covered this ground when she wrote in “Living Memory,”
All we can read is life. Death is invisible.
A yahrzeit candle belongs
to life. The sugar skulls
eaten on graves for the Day of the Dead
belong to life. To the living. The Kaddish is to the living,
the Day of the Dead, for the living.
“Boston Strong” was already about other stuff, and not just a testament to the Marathon bombing victims, from the moment the phrase was coined. The way we remember tragedies is all about us, the living. Even for the survivors of the Marathon attacks and the wounded, I can only imagine that going down to the site of the bombings and to this or the future memorial will be completely different than it is for everyone else who wears the Boston Strong gear. In all of its temporariness I found this to be an effective call to remember those who died and were hurt, and a reminder of how hard it is to keep them in mind once the relics come down.