Today, 36,000 people will run the Boston Marathon. For years, the runners may not have given the history of Patriots’ Day much thought—the connection between the long, arduous route from Hopkinton to Paul Revere’s midnight ride and the revolutionary battles at Lexington and Concord.
But Revere’s ride, and those battles, and the tragedy that befell our city and region last year, will now be forever linked, and not just by the date.
The runners, and all of us, could start by drawing inspiration from Revere himself. Among his great contributions to the cause of freedom, Revere was also that night arguably our nation’s first triathlete.
He rowed the Charles with his two associates. He rode his horse. Then, in his own words, he “made haste” to Lexington Green—which is colonial-speak for running—so that he could hear the rebel muskets fire upon the redcoats. And that’s after being held at gunpoint by several British soldiers.
He wasn’t just one of New England’s first patriots. He was apparently so tough and fit that he probably could have played for the New England Patriots.
And as Revere rode that night, it was as if those thousands of hoof strikes between Charlestown and Lexington and Concord called those thousands of Massachusetts militiamen to the field.
Revere’s impressive effort became America’s iconic journey against tyranny.
Because at the end of that ride, as the column of British regulars advanced, there was the exclamation point.
As Emerson wrote in Concord’s Hymn:
"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."
That musket fire released years of anger, of oppression, heralding a charge that would not cease until the Atlantic welcomed the British eastward once more.
Today, when the Marathon starting pistol pierces the April breeze, Boston will lead another iconic journey against the tyranny of terrorism. Today is our new shot heard round the world. Today, we renew our call to liberty.
The riders today will instead be racers. The charge towards the finish line will welcome the world back to Copley Square.
More than New Year’s Day, in Boston it is Patriots’ Day that ushers in a new hope, as winter’s ice relinquishes its grip. And as we celebrate the day, we realize more than ever that our city is engaged in constant conversation between history and future. Runners and spectators arise before dawn to participate in a race that dates to Greek antiquity. Our Red Sox, who we call our Old Towne Team, plays before noon, inviting the promise of the morning sun.
That same push and pull of history and possibility will define our thoughts today, and every Patriots’ Day from now on. Today, we will miss those who have left us. And today, we will take the shattered shards of the past and patch together a new, stronger future.
But likely the greatest difference in this year’s Patriots’ Day compared to before the bombing is that we have realized we are a city still watched and revered by the world.
In his famous speech, John Winthrop, our first governor, said that Boston would be a shining city upon a hill; that this new experiment in self-determination would be watched by the world.
But the light of freedom, the light of democracy, these lanterns of liberty are not illuminated on their own. America brightens the world only as reflected light, radiating from the actions and aspirations of her people.
So when people cheer our race today, Boston and this region will shine brighter than ever, like millions of mirrors concentrating and projecting our values and hopes outwards to the world. And when that light is seen, it will kindle people to pursue liberty, wherever they are.
And as we cheer today, we will fill the spaces left by those who we lost. Krystle Campbell. Martin Richard. Lu Lingzi. Sean Collier.
And we will fill that void with love. Love: that is what restores the hole in our hearts. Love for our city. Love for our fellow man.
Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Today, in Boston, on the Marathon route, and throughout this Commonwealth, we will illuminate the very best of what unites us all—compassion, courage, optimism and hope.
And as runners ascend Heartbreak Hill this year, many of them will certainly be thinking of the heartbreak from last year. But their spirits, and their pace, will be buoyed by thoughts of those ordinary citizens and first responders who bravely rushed towards danger last April, and who cheer them on this year.
And we will realize that the connection between this, our happiest holiday, and the past is even deeper than ever. We consider our storied history even as we search for new possibility tomorrow. We relish in our role as being first in freedom. And we do so knowing the world still looks to us, still looks to Boston, to light the way to liberty.