Paying tribute on the streets

Michael Rose, Alison Gray

BOSTON -- They stacked up 10 or 12 deep behind the barricades a half-block beyond the marathon finish line Tuesday in pelting rain and wind gusts that turned their umbrellas inside out. They filled in the corner steps of the Old South Church like a mute choir on risers and listened for the silence that would descend at 2:49 p.m., siphoning away the terrible sounds of a year ago.

They couldn't see the brief ceremony about to take place, and they couldn't get any closer. They understood. Police, bomb-sniffing dogs and metal barricades separated them from the finish line on Boylston Street, but it still belonged to them. They were exercising their freedom of assembly.

The faint tones of a bagpipe reached them, and then "God Bless America," and then the absence of noise took over, nothing audible except the wind whistling through Copley Square, rattling banners and jackets.

Some bowed their heads. Some closed their eyes. The moment passed. The Old South Church tower bell tolled. People felt for their cellphones, slowly drew them out and returned to the present.

Emily Rogers and Richard Webster, colleagues at nearby Trinity Church, turned to each other and embraced. Neither even considered staying indoors to watch the ceremony on television.

Why stand in this spot, buffeted by weather and memory? "To honor," Rogers said after a moment of deliberation. "To observe a moment that was so hard for so many people."

She was a spectator last year, there to support Webster, the church's musical director. On Tuesday, they weren't far from where he had paused after finishing the marathon. He heard the first explosion, saw the white smoke, heard the second explosion, saw a bloodied man run by, heard him talking about limbs in the street.

"A whole bunch of us started to cry," Webster said. "The race volunteers surrounded us with such kindness: 'What can we do for you?' Well, we're not the ones in distress. But you know, that was the instinct, to react with whatever kindness or goodness you could find in that moment, which was a beautiful thing in the face of such evil."

The Boston Marathon takes place annually on the Patriots Day holiday, as it will again, under unprecedented security, on Monday. This was a workday. Many who might have liked to be downtown to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedy couldn't get there.

There was drop-in counseling, special masses in churches and art therapy in a student lounge. People found other ways to mourn, meditate, put a most unusual year behind them and look ahead. But they also kept coming to the finish line in numbers, whenever they could.

Traffic was flowing under the photo bridge that spans Boylston Street just past the finish line at 9 a.m., and the sidewalks on both sides bustled with people on their way to business as usual. The Forum restaurant, a horrific scene of destruction last April 15, had fresh daffodils and pansies in planters surrounding its outdoor seating area.

Runners threaded their way purposefully through the morning rush. One of them stopped on the sidewalk near the finish line, leaned on the barricade and struck up a conversation with a stranger also wearing blue and gold Boston Athletic Association gear.

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