On April 17, a man named Balal was taking steps toward a noose that hung before him, about to be publicly hung for killing 18-year-old Abdollah Hosseinzadeh with a knife in a street brawl. In the Islamic republic of Iran, there exists the concept of qisas, which in this case meant that Hosseinzadeh’s family would be the ones to push the chair Balal would stand on moments before his death. Public executions are not a rarity in the country; but what ensued was. The victim’s mother came toward Balal, slapped him across the face, and said that she forgave him. The victim’s father loosened the rope around Balal’s neck and he stepped down, alive and breathing. Balal’s mother embraced the woman who lost her son; one of them crying because she got to see her son live, the other crying because she would never see her son again.
As I strolled around Boston on Monday, I thought of that slap. I worried that the spirit of the marathon would morph into one of aggression, one of suspicion and one that was not reminiscent of the human triumphs Boston had witnessed for years and years. I hoped that as a city, the slogan “Boston Strong” would not embody a war cry, but rather a determined murmur which permeated every step of those 26.2 miles.
I did not go to the finish line that day at the height of the afternoon, when streets were heaving with supporters from all over the world. Instead, a small group of us ventured through to the Boston Public Gardens. We watched news tents flutter in the breeze, and prayer message unfurled in rows on the grass under the unobstructed sun. We walked part of the Freedom Trail until we could see the blue waters dancing before us.
When we returned to the main event, it was almost 7 p.m. and the daylight was waning. A marathon runner asked to borrow a phone to call her husband to tell him she had finished. We congratulated her as she inhaled deeply under her silver poncho. Almost like jellyfish gliding through the ocean, hundreds of runners flocked around us in the same silver garb, medals swaying as if happily dancing from side to side.
By this time, we could walk up to the finish line with the remaining volunteers. This was when the elderly and the tired were coming to finish their marathon, over seven hours after the event commenced. We all felt tears welling up in our eyes when an elder man, being held by relatives on either side, crossed the finish line and immediately held his face in his wrinkled hand as he began to sob. As the street cleaning vehicles hummed down the street, and the crowds had disappated, another man jogged to the finish line with his young daughter clutching his hand, barely taller than his calves. He had run the Boston Marathon 45 times.
Maybe it was not glamourous, but standing on the finish line as the sun set on the last marathon I would ever see as an undergraduate, amidst the last of the runners, after a 20-mile walk to remind us why Boston will remain in our hearts for the rest of our lives, was the perfect way to slap the horror and fear of one year ago square in the face.
Sofiya Mahdi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a former managing editor at The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected]