I often park on the finish line of the Boston Marathon. 364 days a year it’s just a paint-worn line on the pavement on Boylston Street. It’s right in front of Old South Church, my wife’s home congregation, and I sometimes joke that it is the closest I will ever get to crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
But one day a year, that line means something else. It’s the destination to which everyone who attempts to run 26.2 miles looks ahead. It’s the place where spirit triumphs over pain. It’s the culmination of months, if not years of training. And, for Bostonians, it’s an icon.
When I saw the pictures of Old South shrouded in smoke this afternoon, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I still do.
Whoever placed the bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon today knew what they were doing. And they knew that when they were detonated, they would strike a psychic as well as physical blow to the city. They timed this, and they knew what they were doing. They wanted to forever transform that block of Boylston Street from a place of celebration to a place of pain.
They don’t get to do that.
Boylston Street is both beautiful and real. Boston Public Library sits on the corner of the block where the finish line is painted. Copley Square is the next block up. The Prudential Center is the next block down. And on the street a mix of business people commuting, Berklee students playing instruments, homeless people selling newspapers, and tourists meet. And there is no one block in the city that says “Boston” more to me than that stretch of Boylston between Dartmouth and Exeter. When I first saw it, I was immediately in love.
Actually, I may have been more in love with the person I was with that first time I saw it, though I didn’t know it. She’s my wife now. And when I decided to propose to her, I brought her up to the top of the Prudential Center and we looked out at Boylston Street. I pointed down past the finish line to the church where she had taken me that first night. And then, we walked down to that church next to the finish line, and I asked her to marry me.
Five months ago we stood just yards from the finish line as our wedding photos were taken, right after we had said our vows. People walking by on the street congratulated us and wished us well. We could almost feel the love surrounding us that day. That’s what I remember most about that block of Boylston Street.
And that’s what I’m going to keep remembering. What happened today is a tragedy and I will mourn it with Boston and with everyone who has turned their hearts to the city tonight. But whomever it was who tried to blow the block apart, and who tried to forever turn it into a place synonymous with terror and pain…you don’t get to.
Love always wins. I believe that because I believe that God is love, and I believe that God’s love is ultimately impossible to resist. Love wins when we refuse to stop seeing it. And I refuse to stop seeing it. No matter what we learn about the who or the why of what happened today, I choose to believe that in the end “perfect love casts out fear”. In our hearts. In our minds. And on that one city block in the heart of Boston.