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Author’s program note. To experience the joy of spring in New England and in its first and principal city since its inception in 1630 you must have faced and survived the very real rigors of the New England winter as only the genuine New Englander can do… resolute people… determined people… people for whom the very idea of tenacity was created.
These are the people who know the rancor in the bone rattling chill the old Atlantic has thrown at its stubborn inhabitants each wintry season since there were such inhabitants; daring them to spend yet another exacting season on this inauspicious pied-a-terre the Pilgrims audaciously decreed would be their Godly capital. And so fearing nothing but God they began, little knowing how many challenges there would be, but bolstered by the living God facing each one as it came, no matter what it was or how it seared us.
These are the kind of people who in this often grim, demanding geography built their Shining City on a Hill… these are the kind of people who sustain it. For we are a stern and rigorous people who have grown up sometimes daunted, sometimes misguided, sometimes stumbling, but always advancing… renewing… improving; even when our heart is breaking… as it most assuredly is breaking now.
For the musical accompaniment to this article, I have chosen one of the most soothing and uplifting compositions because I feel sure composer Aaron Copeland meant it especially for moments like now. This is “Appalachian Spring”, and I recommend you go now to any search engine and listen to it carefully… for if your soul has no immediate need of it, there is sure to come the day when it will.
This radiant achievement was first recorded October 7, 1945. It caught the sound of the Great Republic as she moved out of the massive burden of war and took her great place on the world stage as the one certain hope of every person who loved freedom and all its works.
One of the first recordings was made in Boston, the uneasy, restless, aspiring city where every corner, every location, every crooked, narrow lane revealed another aspect of what this place and its people had done for themselves as they forged revolution here in order to secure liberty everywhere. The world took note of Boston and knew that here important things had been done… things which might benefit them.
And so the unyielding land of New England and its principal city changed the world while admonishing the good people everywhere to see what they had done to shape the better life, urging them to do as much for themselves and to do it as well.
Into this great city of liberty came people determined to use that liberty to confound that liberty, wreak grievous havoc, and inflict mayhem and pain on a perfect April day when spirits were high and joyous and all New England was garlanded by the flowers of springtime we had all been waiting for. These people came to kill… and they did kill. Came to maim… and they did maim. Came to show what purposeful menace might do… and they did show.
Thus a mother heard in disbelief and horror what her son called on this April day to say, “Ma, I’m hurt real bad.” He had lost both legs to the people of purposeful menace. Then shortly after she learned a second son had lost both his legs, too, her dismay now complete. In this way the bright promise and happiness of the day died… to be replaced by disbelief, lamentation, and wonder that the work of so few could disrupt so many, so completely, and create so much pain. The universal question was ‘How could this happen?”
Of those killed, I felt an immediate affinity for Martin Richard. Why? Because he was a boy who wrote improving messages on poster board. What’s so important about that? Just this: I was such a boy myself and spent happy world-changing hours crafting my posters with Magic Markers like Martin, just so: school election posters, powerful lines taken from a well-thumbed “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”, the ones designed to decorate my room (often featuring the strongest possible warnings to a younger brother who wanted in when I was determined he should stay out) and, of course, the pieces de resistance, master works laboriously created, to be displayed in presidential elections, then kept proudly for years in my clothes closet, until they, tattered, still venerated and profoundly admired, were in shreds.
He was just 8 and his latest beauty, hand-lettered as usual, said a mouthful, “No more hurting people. Peace.” It was festooned with those hard-to-make symmetrical hearts beloved of the very young and the very young in spirit. The peace symbol anchored the bottom standing alone in majesty, the better to make sure people knew it was a thing of the utmost significance and Martin’s credo.
Of course, as many different colors as the young inventive mind could conceive, were riotously used to create this baby. He reckoned that such an important message called for such an abundance of color as the world had never seen. Thus he applied his choices with verve, lavishly, restraint unthinkable.
In perhaps the last picture of Martin he stands before the world, a wisp of a lad, no heavier than a sack of potatoes as my grandfather used to say, his smile a tad sheepish, proudly showing the message that was the heart of his endeavor.
He died in an instant, his mother and sister were severely injured. And so the youthful advocate for what the world needs now became a mangled thing of blood, disfigurement, and death.
Thus he touched the world and became the very symbol for what we so desperately need and can never have enough: peace. One hopes for the existence of God, if only so that Martin Richard can abide through eternity in serenity with the peace he urged upon us all… the peace he had for himself such a little time.
4:21 p.m. Eastern. “Are you alright?”
The voice at the other end was the best of friends. “Turn on NPR at once. Are you alright?” And so the great matter was brought with urgency to my attention, by someone who watches out for me. By that time, the cell phones of the world were overwhelmed by the calls of the near, dear and concerned, all having but a single refrain: are you okay?
In such ways does love work… and if there was malice that day on the part of a handful, millions demonstrated love. And as these calls were made, so numerous that even the most sophisticated systems were overburdened and crashed, the people of Boston did what they have done since 1630 in the face of every calamity: they said a little prayer, dusted themselves off, and helped the sore afflicted as best they could until the great resources of the great city could be summoned and brought to bear.
For this is the city of the living God, as eternal as the Eternal City itself, the city the Pilgrims wrought from the inhospitable and daunting terrain, the very definition of fortitude, endurance, courage and unflinching resolution. This is the city which gave the men of ’75 the ideas that changed the course of world events and the lives of millions, including generations yet unborn.
We are the people of Boston, current custodians of her universal renown. And if our pain today is sharp, deep, and acute, we have not bowed before the unfolding tragedy. That is not the way of this place and its people even under the greatest duress. There have been great tragedies in these hallowed precincts before; there will be great tragedies again. We shall rise to every occasion, just as we have risen to this one. In this way we honor our ancestors and provide the righteous example for those who, in the fullness of time, will take on this essential burden of our greatness and humanity.
Tragedies like this one must be remembered. Yet remembrance is difficult in a society where tragic incidents come thick and fast. We want to remember, we try to remember, but all too soon we cannot remember… and something essential is lost to us and our posterity.
Let us learn from London, a city of important incidents, people and events, all memorialized by blue historical plaques reminding us of what transpired in these critical places, each a thing which might well be forgotten if no conscious effort was made to remember. Yet remember we must for the consequences of negligence put all our crucial memories at risk… and this is unacceptable.
The past is prologue, and we must do everything to ensure that its significance is never lost. Otherwise, the senseless deaths of Martin Richard and his companions for eternity will be unmitigated, their oblivion making a great tragedy more tragic still; thereby further blighting these once perfect spring days in the city of godliness, revolution, and unceasing incident.