I usually don’t write when I am exhausted and crying because I feel as though the blog – and you, the readers – deserve better than that, but the fact is that I cannot think about anything but what happened yesterday in Boston. And when I try to write, the words just feel so small and inconsequential compared to the enormity of what happened. But I’m going to try.
For those of you who don’t know, my day job is working as a web editor and producer for a 24/7 cable news network in Florida. Normally my job means writing quippy news pieces about idiot criminals – which, like sunshine and alligators, is one of my state’s most plentiful resources – and copy-editing to ensure all commas are in the correct place and that everything meets the standards of the almighty AP Stylebook.
For the most part I handle myself with the emotional distance that is characteristic of people who work in news, but sometimes a story penetrates my carefully-constructed defenses and I’ll find myself with tears streaming down my face as I write. Newtown was one of those days. So was the day we learned a 14-year-old girl had allegedly given birth to a baby boy in her bathroom, and then strangled the infant and hid its body in a box in her room.
Yesterday was another one of those days. I cried when I saw photos of the wounded. I cried when I realized that the clock showed 4:09, and that I am a 4:08 marathoner. I cried when I learned people had lost their legs. I cried when I learned an 8-year-old boy had died while waiting for his father to finish. By the time my shift ended after a long 14-hour day, my tear ducts were burned out and my ears felt numb to the sounds of the screams and explosions coming from the television I keep on my desk at work, but that numbness didn’t keep me from dreaming about smoke and blood last night.
Perhaps it affected me even more than most of the worst stories I deal with for the simple fact that the bombers, whoever they are, hit right at the heart of one of the things that I, as a marathoner, hold most dear in my life, that inchoate jumble of pride, suffering, triumph, exhaustion and exhilaration that comes in the last mile of a marathon. That place is sacred to me. It is in that last mile that I have experienced one of the most transformative moments of my life, the moment at which I ceased to see myself as a puddle of a human being, a mess of weakness and flaw, and instead began to regard myself as something much more powerful, as someone who could tackle damn near anything and find a way to come out on top
Strength, resilience, courage: that’s what the final mile of a marathon means to me.
The marathon – the 26.2 miles between the start and the finish lines – offers us who run it a safe space to test ourselves, to see if it is true, that we are made of stronger steel than we ever could have thought possible. We are given a place to embark on this quest where we are supported by volunteers and cheering crowds and also the ghosts and memories of all those who have run before us. But in Boston, that safe space was obliterated in the space of twenty seconds.
It makes me sick with anger and grief that some cowardly individuals, whatever their motivations, whoever they are, chose the final mile of the Boston Marathon as the place to play out their twisted little petty drama. I take it as a deeply personal affront, not just as a human being, but as a marathoner.
I am choosing not to dwell on that, because in the midst of all the blood, smoke and terror, the reality is that the bombs could not annihilate the humanity that makes the final mile of the marathon so special. Indeed, in the midst of the tragedy, the best of humanity could be seen everywhere: in the first responders and spectators who ran toward the explosions to help, in those who helped pull people to safety with little regard for their own safety, in the medical staff who clicked into emergency gear with astonishing efficiency, in the thousands of Bostonians who offered their couches and beds to marathoners in need. It was not difficult to do as Mr. Rogers suggested, to look for the helpers, because they were everywhere.
Certainly this will not bring back those who died. Nor will it restore lost limbs or make people psychically whole again. I, like everyone else, would have rather yesterday’s marathon been a peaceful, uneventful one, that the human dramas that played out be constrained to the artificial limits of the race course, that the worst injury a person could have expected was a lost toenail or a pulled IT band. That is what should have happened, and what did not.
So instead, today I will think about the heroes of the Boston Marathon, not just the Kathrine Switzers and the Dick Beardsleys and the Alberto Salazars, but the Carlos Arredondos, the Joe Andruzzis, the countless first responders and medical professionals, the thousands of people who added their names to that Google spreadsheet, the runners who finished their marathon and kept on running to Mass General on legs that were most assuredly so tired they felt like marble, just so they could donate blood. I will think about them whenever I feel despair, and I will not allow the courage and selflessness of thousands be overshadowed by the evil of a few.
The marathon may have been disrupted in a violent, gruesome way, but the spirit of the marathon lives on in the hearts of every Bostonian today. I hope one day I will be fast enough and good enough so I can run the streets of Boston, and when I do so, it will be an homage to all of those who exhibited such magnificence in the midst of such horror.