Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 18, 2013

Evil At The Finish Line

In the ideal world each of us would create for ourselves if we could, there would be no terror. In those worlds our sports would be constantly entertaining diversions, free of controversy and doubt; their drama limited to exciting events unfolding on the field of play. But such fantasy worlds exist only in the imagination of children. The real world in which our mortal time unfolds harbors much that is evil. Sometimes evil’s awful trajectory crosses the timeline of our games, with unspeakably tragic effect.

It has happened before. At the Munich Olympics in 1972. Again a half-dozen Olympiads later, at Atlanta in 1996. Twice during international cricket matches in Pakistan, in 2002 and again in 2009. The bitter truth that we all know and yet fervently deny is that one day it will happen again. In New England, one day was Monday. It was Patriots Day in Massachusetts, a state holiday commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War. For more than 25,000 runners and some half million fans lining the route, it was Marathon Monday. It was the day evil came to Boston.

There is no accounting for madness, and there never will be. A person or persons as yet unknown, motivated by something senseless that we will never understand, left two lethal bombs on Boylston Street, the site of the Marathon’s conclusion. The explosions were not timed for maximum effect. Had that been the case they would have occurred more than two hours earlier, when the elite men and women runners were racing up Boylston Street toward the finish line, with thousands of spectators jammed five and six deep along the sidewalks. Rather they seemed timed for the maximum destruction of innocents; exploding at a time when the later waves of amateur runners were approaching the end of their 26 mile journey from Hopkinton, cheered on by those who had come to the finish line to greet a relative or snap a photo of a friend.

The lives of an eight year old boy and two young women were snuffed out. The lives of scores more were changed forever, with many suffering gruesome and grievous injuries. Yet as awful as those raw facts are, as shocking as the videos and pictures which we all watched Monday night will always be, an act of terrorism is about much more than the immediate casualty count. For whatever twisted belief or agenda it serves, terrorism aims to further its objective not just by immediate violence; but also by creating a broader and more lasting climate of fear. As malicious and destructive as terror may be in the moment, its far greater harm is achieved when we all become its victims. It is when we change our patterns and cower in fear, when we desert each other and think only of ourselves; or, in the context of Monday’s atrocity, abandon our sports because of the gnawing doubt about what might happen, that terror triumphs.

So it is that even in this hour of mourning and grief for what has been lost, there is a shining and resolute beacon of hope that shines in Boston and around the country. For before we even know the identity of the perpetrators we know that they have failed.

Their failure was apparent immediately, even in those first awful seconds after the bombs went off Monday afternoon. That was when not just first responders, but also common citizens chose not to run away from the horror. Rather as we have all seen many ran directly into what could have been harm’s way. Their immediate response was to try to help, to offer succor and comfort to the wounded and the dying.

By Tuesday night terror’s failure was broadcast from coast to coast. At the Stadium in the Bronx, home to Boston’s most bitter rival, fans stood and sang along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the joyful anthem played in the latter innings of every game at Fenway Park. It was a scene repeated at several more ballparks all across the country.

On Wednesday evening, barely more than 48 hours after evil came to Boston; the city’s sports fans added their voices to the growing chorus rejecting fear. The Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres in the city’s first major sporting event since the bombings. No one stayed away from TD Garden for fear of a copycat crime. The arena was filled to its 17,565 seat capacity when Rene Rancourt came out onto the ice to sing the national anthem, as he has done for 35 years. But this night was different. Rancourt began as usual, but at the start of the anthem’s second line, after “What so proudly,” he fell silent. Even as he did so the packed house took up the verse, not in the muted way one hears before many sporting events; but in full-throated unison. With Rancourt pumping his right arm as if directing an orchestra, Boston’s sports fans loudly proclaimed their refusal to be cowed.

For all the horrific damage that it did, this act of terror has already failed. That failure will be final and complete just over a year from now. Monday, April 21, 2014, another Patriots Day will dawn. It will again be Marathon Monday in New England. We do not know what kind of day it will be. Perhaps, like this year, it will be an ideal day for running, with cool temperatures and light breezes. Perhaps it will turn out to be like last year, when unseasonable warmth made for difficult and stressful conditions for the runners.

But while we cannot forecast the weather twelve months in advance, surely this much we know for certain. More than 25,000 runners will gather that morning in Hopkinton, 26.2 miles from Copley Square. Among them will be many who were stopped this year short of the finish line, returning with a firm determination to finish what evil interrupted. They will set off in waves, led by the mobility impaired and the wheelchair division followed by the elite women, then the elite men and at last a jostling crush of humanity; the thousands and thousands of men and women who run not for medals or money, but simply to prove that they can pass this phenomenal physical test.

We know that they will be running, and we also know this. As they make their way from the start, on through Ashland, Framingham, Natick and Wellesley; into Newton and the challenge of Heartbreak Hill at Mile 20 and finally into Brookline and Boston, more than half a million sports fans will line the streets. When those runners make the final turn onto Boylston Street for the final sprint, or stagger, to the finish line, the sidewalks will be packed and the cheering will be loud.

Our lives are not spent in a fantasy land, and we all know that evil exists. On Monday evil came to Boston. It inflicted horrible damage, and marred one of New England’s oldest sporting events. But in the end, the one absolute certainty is that evil will not win.


  1. you made me cry. I needed to after the horror of Monday. The tears came and they were welcome. I never realized how tightly I was holding them in. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for reading; and if I was able to help in some small way, thank you for that as well.

  2. Nice.

    Sent from my iPad

  3. […] A NOTE TO READERS:  A reflection on last year’s Boston Marathon tragedy can be found here: […]

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