Cullen: Day’s ordinary beauty drowns out memories of 2013 Marathon horror

Boston GlobeApril 22, 2014 

GLOBE STAFF PHOTO BY STAN GROSSF

— At the exact moment that the elite women runners took their first long, graceful strides in Hopkinton, Chris Manjourides was standing over a grill at Charlie’s on Columbus Avenue in the South End, doing what he does best: sling hash.

While Manjourides prepared the best turkey hash in the whole wide world, his brother Arthur was pouring thick pancake batter on the griddle. Their sister Marie Fuller was filling a mug with hot coffee and another sister, Fontaine Anzalone, was explaining to a couple of college kids that Charlie’s is tight on space so they would have to share a table with strangers.

Marie Fuller was wearing a blue “Boston Strong” T-shirt and she stepped outside briefly, onto a sunsplashed sidewalk. She came back in, surveyed the room she’s worked for nearly half a century, and was nodding, almost imperceptibly, as she said: “It’s going to be a good day.”

And it was.

The relaxed, uneventful, overwhelming ordinariness inside Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe was replicated all across the city, all along the Marathon route, where everything that was so wrong about Patriots Day last year was swamped on Monday in a sea of normalcy.

In the Public Garden, the buds were visible on the beech trees. The swan boats cruised the lagoon and the ducks quacked their vehement dissent. Under a weeping willow, a father and his young son picked up thin branches, strewn by the recent high winds, and used them to engage in a mock sword fight. Across Charles Street, on the Common, the playground next to the Frog Pond was teeming with kids, their screeches drowning out the birdsong. On sidewalks in the South End and Back Bay, people dined al fresco, soaking up the sun and each other.

Everything seemed as it ever was, except when it came to the person who ran the fastest 26.2 miles. Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years. Keflezighi came to this country as a 12-year-old refugee from Eritrea. He went to UCLA and made something of himself.

A year after a pair of refugees who spurned all the opportunity offered to them by this country allegedly attacked the Marathon, a refugee who embraced what they rejected triumphantly won it. It was a poignant reminder that the vast majority of immigrants who come to America aspire to be Meb Keflezighi, not Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Last Patriots Day, Dr. Ricky Kue, the son of immigrants, was working the Alpha tent next to the Boston Public Library, around the corner from the finish line, when he heard two distinctive booms. Kue, an emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center and a major in the US Army Reserve, found himself in an almost surreal hospital theater, treating in Back Bay the sort of injuries he saw in Iraq years before.

On Monday, Dr. Kue was working the Bravo tent, on St. James Avenue. For much of the day, he was almost bored, and it was a beautiful thing to behold.

At other times, he got a little busy. There were a couple of runners with chest pain. “I tried to reassure them, telling them they had just passed the hardest stress test of all,” he said.

Some runners were profoundly dehydrated. But he didn’t see lives destroyed. He saw and heard what he always saw and heard before last year.

“A couple of times, I stepped out of the tent and I saw all the runners, all these families, with kids, just walking, relaxed and happy, and it was just like I remembered it,” he said. “It was just so … normal.”

This year’s Marathon took place on Easter Monday, a day replete with symbolism in Boston and beyond. There is no day on the Christian calendar more attached to the idea of redemption, rebirth, and resurrection than Easter.

On Easter Monday in 1916, a group of ragtag rebels marched down the main drag in Dublin and took over the General Post Office, launching a quixotic rebellion that eventually led to Irish freedom. People died on the main street in Dublin all those years ago, just as they died on the main street of Boston last year.

The poet William Butler Yeats was alternately appalled and awed by what transpired on Easter Monday 98 years ago, leading him to write “Easter 1916,” a meditation on the pain and suffering and death that gave birth to something Yeats called a terrible beauty.

What happened last year on Boylston Street was terrible. People were killed and maimed, bodies and souls grievously injured. And yet when the sounds of the bombs faded, when the smoke lifted, what followed was beautiful, more powerful than a bomb. Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics and ordinary people ran headlong to help the wounded, without any regard for their own well-being. They tied off legs. They comforted the traumatized. They moved 90 seriously injured people in less than a half hour.

Everyone who was stabilized by marvelous medical people like Ricky Kue and transported to the hospital that terrible day was saved. More than one was brought back from the dead.

Reborn. Resurrected.

On Monday, Easter Monday, we had our own Easter Rising.

Back to being normal.

Back to being Boston.

And it was terribly beautiful.

Email Mr. Cullen at cullen@globe.com.

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