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The horrifying incident at the Boston Marathon has the nation grieving and perplexed. Why the Marathon, a national icon that has become an international event fostering a spirit of cooperation and respect? Is that why? Because it is not just ours, but a thing that belongs in some degree to the entire world of people who challenge the limits of their own endurance? There is no political agenda at the Marathon, no “us against them” mentality or western domination. The runners come from all nations and are there to take on only one enemy that stands in their way, their own limitations.
I believe that the senseless tragedy that played out in Boston is, perhaps, even more poignant for those who live in this region. We are not all long distance runners, but New England is a place that understands challenge. We historically know what it means to set ourselves against hardship, the environment, and our own physical limitations. Those who settled New England needed the same qualities to survive that you find in distance runners: physical and mental toughness, a powerful will, and a consuming goal that makes it possible to endure. It makes sense to have the nation's oldest and most famous marathon here, where the strong and determined survived against monumental odds.
When I speak with people from other regions in our country they are often perplexed as to why I would want to live here. It is remote, it is cold, it is harsh, it is largely wilderness, is expensive, it lacks entertainment and diversion, and isn't it actually part of Canada? I tell them that I live here because of all those things. Because it is open, sparsely populated, rugged, and wild. Because it still holds the flavor of what this continent was to those who were here first and arrived later. Because it spawned the intellectual force that forged this country in revolution and held it together through Civil War. Because it is the birthplace of American intellectual thought, literature, and humanist philosophy. Because, to a good degree, it still is. Boston alone has nearly 60 colleges and universities within its city limits, more than any other city. Because George Washington himself said that he could not have won the Revolutionary War without the abilities and toughness of the New England fishermen who served under him who were made so by the courage they needed to sail and fish in the frigid waters of the North Sea, waters so inhospitable that even in the 20th century they could sink the unsinkable. Because New England is the birthplace of little Henry Knox, the bookseller who managed to get across 300 miles of wilderness from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York and drag 60 enormous cannon back another 300 miles in the middle of winter over frozen rivers, lakes, and mountains to protect Boston Harbor from the British. Because a brilliant lady sat in her parlor in Maine and wrote a book about the injustices of slavery that galvanized the people of New England and ultimately, the entire world, into a movement determined to end that obscene institution. Because one of the students who listened to her read that book out loud was an intellectually gifted young man who would start out a college professor and become one of the great military leaders of the Civil War, a man determined to do what he felt was necessary to preserve the Union and end the abomination of slavery.
Because in my little town with not even a traffic light, and a hundred other little towns just like it, there is a Civil War Memorial that lists the names of the huge percentage of male population who volunteered in what is carved in stone as, “The Great Slaveholders' Rebellion”, which was what it was to these men, a rebellion of powerful men who sought to maintain a way of life inconceivable to a New Englander. Because half of my family came to this region and the Maritimes, with whom we still have powerful ties, long before it was a nation and survived. Because my great, great, great grandmother gave birth to twins out in the fields of her farm in Vermont with only a young farm hand to help her, delivered them, picked them up, carried them home, cleaned them, fed them, and made dinner for everyone.
We are New Englanders and our ancestors forged the physical and intellectual backbone of this nation. We have survived brutal winters, primeval wilderness, and icy seas and thrived, and no act of cowardly random violence can break us. Ever.
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