The Boston Marathon has long held a special place in my heart.  In an earlier life, I covered the event for three years as a reporter for the Middlesex News, now known as the MetroWest Daily News.  My beat at the time encompassed two towns along the route—Hopkinton and Natick.

Beyond combining a challenging assignment and a festive atmosphere, the Marathon provided an annual source of inspiration.  In 1996, I stood at the starting line in Hopkinton for the 100th running of the storied race, when record numbers of athletes set off with enthusiasm and determination.  The next year marked the 25th anniversary of women’s official participation, and I had the honor of interviewing several of those who helped to break the gender barrier.

I dreamed of running the race myself, and although I never have, reporting on it was one of the highlights of my newspaper career.  I think fondly of the Marathon every Patriots Day.

First responders tend to the wounded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
First responders tend to the wounded at the finish line for the Boston Marathon. (Creative Commons-Licensed Flckr Photo by hahatango)

A week ago, uplifting memories from my years as a journalist collided with my current work as a human rights researcher.  Over the past 12 years, I have documented the effects of armed conflict on civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, Georgia, Libya, and elsewhere.

The news reports of horrific injuries and lost limbs at the Marathon’s finish line immediately conjured up images of war wounds I have seen.  Eyewitness accounts echoed those I have heard in far-away conflict zones.  And the red sidewalk on Boylston Street brought to mind the bloody ground in Lebanon where a cluster munition dud killed a 12-year-old boy two hours before I arrived.

The weapons that inflicted the injuries in Boston had an unnerving similarity to munitions I have investigated overseas.  The ball bearings packed in the homemade bombs closely resembled those used in rocket attacks in the Middle East.  I show samples of these steel spheres to my classes when explaining how they serve to maximize bodily harm.

Having such a vicious attack take place only a few miles away on an occasion I hold dear has resonated deeply.  The explosions hit home—literally and figuratively.

Nonetheless, the Boston Marathon retains its power to inspire me.  This year it was not just the runners in the race who attracted my admiration.  It was also medical personnel and spectators who ran to the scene immediately after the blasts to provide life-saving assistance.  Countless others gave of themselves as needed in the harrowing days that followed.

As a human rights advocate, I have taken from the event much more than the realization that even my hometown is vulnerable to attack.  I continue to be impressed by the acts of courage and commitment that the tragedy has called forth.  Such responses strengthen my conviction that good will not be cowed by evil and that individuals who stand firm against armed violence will ultimately succeed.