Expect the Unexpected

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Another 9/11, another Newtown


The Boston Marathon, one of the most joyous celebrations in Boston.

Held every year on Patriot’s Day, it’s a special state holiday. Kids have the day off from school. Businesses grind to a halt. The weather is usually spectacular, as it was yesterday. A harbinger of spring, it’s the city’s first major outdoor celebration (The next will be July 4 on the Charles River esplanade). And it’s free, so everyone is welcome.

Runners show up by busloads in Hopkinton to make the 26 mile trek. For spectators, students, singles, seniors, and families, it’s just one huge party. There’s no rivalry on the marathon route. It’s not a Red Sox/Yankees game. The crowds cheer everyone on, saying things like “Oh look there’s someone from Kenya! They came all the way here to just to run!” as they hand out little cups of water to show their support.

Rosie Ruiz and Bill Rodgers at the 1980 Boston Marathon.

Rosie Ruiz and Bill Rodgers at the 1980 Boston Marathon.

When I lived in Boston, as a student at Boston University and then as a grad, I always attended the marathon. I couldn’t miss it really. In the three apartments I had during that time, I was always just one block away from the route on Beacon Street.

In 1980, I was watching the marathon with a crowd near Winthrop Road in Brookline when Bill Rodgers smoked by on his way to his third Boston title. We anxiously waited for the first woman to pass, and in a few minutes, there she was, Jacqueline Gareau. Huge roars from the crowd, “You go girl!”

Or so we thought. We later found out that a runner by the name of Rosie Ruiz was the first female to cross the finish line, in record time no less. Or was she? None of us remembered seeing her. Nor did others for miles along the route. In a quick news conference after the race, Rosie suggested people didn’t notice her because she has short hair and they mistook her for a guy.

No. It turned out Rosie was a fake. She had jumped onto the route along Commonwealth Avenue, half a mile from the finish line. After an investigation, the Boston Athletic Association discovered the fraud, disqualified her and Jacqueline Gareau was awarded her rightful title.

Until yesterday, the Rosie Ruiz scandal was about the worst thing to happen at the Boston Marathon.

Until yesterday.

Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt

Just as on 9/11 and in Newtown, things are never going to be the same for the marathon, or Boston, or any of us. Someone did something so heinous, so despicable, so unconscionable, it defies all comprehension and humanity. An act like this forces us all to confront the evil in the world.

And we will confront it together, united. And we will mourn, and we will, eventually, move forward.

Of all people, comedian Patton Oswalt delivered a highly inspirational message yesterday about the tragedy:

“Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, ‘Well, I’ve had it with humanity.’

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.” —Patton Oswalt


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