Paying tribute on the streets

— -- 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.

Michael Rose, a student at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, and Alison Gray, a human resources consultant from Cambridge, are running the marathon again this year.

"Don't tell my physical therapist," said Gray, who sported blue physio tape on both ankles as a palliative for tendinitis. She held a to-go coffee cup with lipstick on the rim and a smartphone playlist stopped at the Boston anthem "Dirty Water."

"I kept running by this spot every few days to see if the new finish line was here yet," Rose said, laughing at the detour he imposed on himself.

Their light mood turned quickly as they talked about Monday's race.

Gray burst into tears as she described her high spirits at last year's start in Hopkinton -- her first after 10 years of dreaming. "I remember thinking, 'It doesn't get better than this,'" she said.

Rose, who is raising money for Boston Children's Hospital, said he trains with the thought of alleviating the suffering of his 9-year-old "patient partner."

Gray looked at him and nodded. "There's no way you can walk away from this marathon."

On Arlington Street, Boston Center for Adult Education executive director Susie Brown has opened the doors for the end of the second week of "Bled for Boston," portraits of people with marathon-related tattoos by photographer Christopher Padgett, an instructor at the center. Brown doesn't have a tattoo herself, but she finds the gallery of body art lining the halls of the building "healing" and said others have too.

"This is a group of runners, survivors, first responders and the general public expressing themselves, and to me, the message is 'We'll never forget,'" she said. "They've chosen to do that with permanent ink on their bodies."

The idea originated when local tattoo shops promoted Boston-themed designs and channeled the profits to the One Fund benefiting bombing survivors. More than 70 people posed for Padgett.

Each tattoo is striking in its own way. There is a heart covering much of eastern Massachusetts on the wrist of a pub manager in a downtown hotel whose establishment became an evidence room after the bombings. There is a design incorporating the latitude and longitude of the Boston Light lighthouse chosen by a sailor who knew slain MIT police officer Sean Collier. There are nurses who commissioned their R.N. insignia in full color. There are renditions of the famous Citgo sign and the Boston skyline and, often, there is a date: 4-15-13.

Brown said she was especially moved by an elaborate crest on the calf of a Boston police officer who was a block from the explosions. It features a shield, a sneaker, the Red Sox "B" and the words: "First Responders / We Run Toward Danger."

"This fits our mission to create and discuss and learn from each other," Brown said of the exhibit. "We are really proud to share this with the city."

It was standing room only in O'Keeffe Auditorium at Massachusetts General Hospital for a panel discussion on lessons learned from the medical response to the extraordinary demands of last year's marathon.

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sat to one side of a table where doctors and administrators spoke to staff members in a session that was part review, part thanks and motivational.

Mass General, as it's colloquially known, treated 39 marathon victims. Exhausted and reeling at the end of the week, the staffers on shift when Friday's "shelter in place" order was imposed because of the citywide manhunt for the second suspect had to keep working.

One of the results of that brutally difficult stretch: a messaging system for all employees that can be used in similar emergencies.

Dr. David King, a trauma surgeon and veteran marathoner, commended surgical residents for their intensity and made a distance running analogy.

"You always have something left in the tank," he said. "So after Monday, you think, 'There's no way I can come back and do this on Tuesday.' On Tuesday, you think, 'There's no way I can come back and do this on Wednesday.' Then the president wants to visit. 'No way can we squeeze this in on top of taking care of all the patients.' Then [after the shelter-in-place order], 'There's no way we can request that everyone stay in and work.'

"This is just another example of how it can look bad at [Mile] 18, but it looks great at Mile 26."

In the hospital lobby closest to the Red Line T stop, there was wordless commemoration of the day. A pianist and a violinist played soothing classical selections while next to them a woman in blue scrubs tied a "prayer ribbon" to a bare-boned tree that blossomed with others in the blue and yellow colors of the marathon.

The Boston Public Library's grand exterior was the backdrop for much of the footage taken in the moments after the bombings. Medical Tent A, where many victims were triaged and loaded into ambulances last year, is installed every year parallel to the Copley Square façade, alongside the statues representing Art and Science, with the inscription "built by the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning" overhead.

That tent will increase in square footage this year and the medical staff will swell by several hundred, not because organizers fear another violent act but because there are more runners starting -- 36,000, compared to 23,000 last year. Those who didn't finish were invited back, as were others directly affected by the events.

The library remained closed until 4 p.m. Tuesday, another concession to the security measures. Several dozen people, their coats sodden in the downpour, looked eager when a man came to unlock the heavy iron gates. "Give me a minute," he said in a friendly tone. "Give me some room."

Most of the people who streamed in headed for a hall to the left, where items from the temporary memorial that mushroomed in Copley Square are being exhibited -- a fraction of the collection now stored in the city's archives.

Handwritten notes, artwork, ball caps, crosses for the dead, photographs of toys and messages written on the pavement in chalk are arranged in displays around the centerpiece, a platform almost completely covered with rows of neatly arranged running shoes left by people paying their respects.

A woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair stepped to the edge of the sea of shoes and seemed to be searching for something. She hugged her sister and cried, approached the platform again, leaned against a pillar and took it all in.

Janet Fink knew she probably wouldn't spot her old pair of Nikes with the pink swoosh here at the library. It didn't matter. There were plenty of others imbued with the same sweat and sentiment as hers.

Like many who paused for reflection Tuesday, the 65-year-old Fink is not a marathoner. She runs 5 miles twice a week, 7 or 8 on a third day, and doesn't aspire to go any further. But she loves attending the event, loves seeing people flowing through the streets of her adopted hometown.

Fink walked around the room to a table where there were white paper tags with a bit of string to hang them and a long stick to help place them in the higher reaches of tree branches standing on clear display cases.

She chose a green felt-tip pen to write her message and settled her tag on a lower branch where it was easy to see: "Left my shoes last year, but I'm still running for Boston in my new ones."