Monday, April 20, 2015

The Marathon, Democracy

It's Marathon Monday in Boston, the second Marathon since the bombing. A Massachusetts jury is currently deciding whether the surviving bomber should serve life in prison or be executed, but that jury  will not meet today, because it is a holiday. Today is Patriot's Day.

There's a school of thought, what I call the "Never Forget" school of responding to terrorism, that would make the Boston Marathon primarily, now and forever, into a memorial to the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. That attack would become the main meaning of every future Marathon. But that would be a terrible mistake. For starters, the Marathon is already a memorial.

The Marathon celebrates at least two great moments in the history of democracy. The event and its name celebrate the Athenian victory over the Persian Empire at Marathon in 490 BC. The Marathon is Boston's attempt to align itself with the idealized version Athenian democracy that early Americans took as a model. On a more concrete level the day of the Marathon, Patriot's Day, memorializes the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, when the Massachusetts Minutemen stood up to the British Army. 

Neither of those two events should take a back seat in historical memory to the Tsarnaev brothers and their grubby little bombs. The bombing is not the most important thing that has ever happened in Boston; it's not even in the top one hundred. I'm not proposing forgetting it. But I refuse to promote that day above our better and more historic days. I refuse to make our story about our pain instead of our achievements. I will not bump the Minutemen out in order to make this day about the Tsarnaevs, who are nothing. I wouldn't bump Phedippides, the first marathoner, either. 

(And don't you dare suggest that we talk less about Joanie Benoit. I don't live in Boston anymore, but I'm still from Boston, and anyone who disrespects Joanie is officially on notice.)

Democracy is a marathon: long, difficult, and tedious. It requires patience. It doesn't do things the quick way. The lazy and short-sighted can't imagine why anyone would bother, when you could just have a tyrant and an SUV. And democracy, like the marathon, can be painful. It often requires you to keep moving forward and put the pain out of your mind, to forget the hurt and remember the prize ahead. That is a good lesson. The ancient Athenians invented both of these institutions and the Athenians, frankly, could be a little crazy. The marathon, like democracy, asks a just little more of us than the human spirit can be expected to bear, and it offers us victories of the spirit that seem jbeyond human grasp. Their is no better celebration, no better tribute.

Happy Patriot's Day.

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