Heartbreak Hill

bostonI used to live in Boston, some 40 years ago, as a young man driving a cab and playing rock ‘n roll, and one thing we’d always look forward to was Patriot’s Day, a holiday in no other state, and it’s attendant traditions — an 11 a.m. Red Sox game at Fenway Park, just four blocks from my apartment and the annual running of the Boston Marathon. My friends and I would watch as a Finn, a Columbian and an Oregonian named Jon Anderson paced off victories in the years just before glory when Bill Rogers, a Massachusetts kid, wrecked the field four out of six years, including three in a row. Kenyans have now won 20 of the last 26.

The finish line on Boylston Street is the glamour place to watch, but the ones in the know would go out Commonwealth Avenue to Newton, outside of Brookline, to the top of Heartbreak Hill, which is not, as might be imagined, one giant climb, but rather the last of an increasingly steep set of about five inclines that separate the contenders and pretenders. That’s where you’d see the glory, the pain, the years of effort etched into the faces, sometimes runners stumbling or on their knees clawing to the top. He, or she, who crests Heartbreak Hill in the lead, generally takes the race.

This week, this beautiful tradition, this celebration was attacked. With pressure cooker bombs you can make from instructions on the internet; the tactics taken from the modern wars we’ve fought and agonized over. The attacker (s) will be identified by surveillance cameras and cell phone videos, the coverage 24-7, the dead buried, wounded suffering with their families. The city will bounce back, as New York did and again we will debate the limits of our freedom and whether we must trade some for our security, same as we talk about having armed teachers or security guards in schools, even as we’ve come to accept cameras watching almost our every public move. We will search for the line that protects maximum freedom of movement, gathering, expression, while still providing security. And then probably complain about the amount of taxes it takes to achieve this delicate balance.

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Our hearts go out to the victims and the residents of Boston, a beautiful city that cherishes its heritage.

On a personal note, thanks to everyone who expressed concern and wished me well as I continue to recover from hip replacement surgery. I’m extremely lucky, as things go in this world, to be able to have a nice shiny new, pain free mobile appliance and promise I won’t take for granted even a day with it.

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