I woke up this morning, on my thirtieth birthday, a milestone birthday, with a set plan for the day. Open my wife’s gifts, treat myself to a Starbucks vanilla latte on the way to work, blow off doing any work in the morning so I could closely watch online coverage of the Boston Marathon instead, get my obligatory birthday burrito for lunch, come home and go for my first run in seven weeks (injury, boo!), eat my favorite dish that my wife cooks, and then relax while forcing one or more of my cats to cuddle with me. I did most of my celebrating for my birthday over the weekend so I didn’t have any big plans for the day, just a few little things that I wanted to do.
Up through lunch, everything was going pretty great. I watched the elites run their race and then got my burrito. But just when I was about to finally start to get a little work done for the day to make up for not doing anything all morning, I heard the news. One of the communities that I call my own was senselessly attacked, people were killed and many were injured. My heart immediately sank and, with each bit of information that came out, it continued to sink deeper and deeper. So many things raced through my head. At first, these thoughts were mostly along the lines of not being able to comprehend what is wrong with people.
I thought about the runners and put myself in their shoes. As a marathon runner myself, I know the emotion involved in running a marathon. Every marathon is an accomplishment and there isn’t one that doesn’t earn itself a place as one of the best days of any runner’s life. And, above all other races, the Boston Marathon is the coveted Super Bowl of marathons, a bucket list race for most runners who will work for years to earn their place on that course. It’s THE marathon and many of us will sacrifice our social lives, jobs, and diets just to get there. I think about the runners who had this taken away from them. One of the best days of their lives, forever tainted. Some had the day ruined retroactively after finishing, some didn’t even get to finish. Many runners were in the last 2k of a 42k race, the finish line close enough to taste, and were unable to finish. I can’t even imagine the feeling.
On its own, that’s heavy, but if that were all that happened, life would go on…for every single person. But that wasn’t it. People were killed and many, many others were horribly injured. An eight year old child was among the two that were killed. Eight years old. It’s likely a safe assumption that he/she was there cheering on a parent, or a sibling, or an aunt, or an uncle. I’m not going to try to put this into words because I don’t think I can.
Photo after photo circulated of blood soaked sidewalks and people with mangled bodies. Limbs were immediately lost and others had to be amputated on the scene or at the hospital. As a runner, the idea of having either of my legs injured is terrifying, as a person, I can’t quite put it into words.
At some point, my wife reminded me that we could have been there. Last October, I made a serious attempt to qualify at the Chicago Marathon. I failed, but not by a lot. Had I succeeded, I would have been on that course today and my wife would have been at the finish line cheering. Given the time of the explosions, I would have likely been well done, by possibly an hour even, but after some races, I like to head over to the spectator areas and cheer on the other runners. If I can still stand, that is. We would have been very close to the explosion.
After all this, it’s easy feel that humanity is inherently awful and we don’t deserve to exist. It takes a conscious effort for me to not feel that way sometimes, but the person (or people) who did this doesn’t represent any real measurable percentage of humanity. There are many, many more people who represent the polar opposite of this person and I think we all need to remember that. And the running community is an amazing example of that. We are the kind of people who will sacrifice our own finish times just to help another runner who falls just feet from the finish line. We encourage and support each other. When we run races, no one on the course is an opponent, they’re all teammates. We care about each other and are compassionate. Humanity as a whole is like us, not the person who did this. I have to remind myself of this often, but I believe it. I really do.
Running will never be quite the same after today. Neither will marathons. Or my birthday. Yes, I will always remember my 30th birthday as the day the running community and our flagship event were horribly attacked. But we will go on. At this point, I’m more scared of people blindly blaming other groups and spreading hate. I fear those that will try to gain a political advantage or try to make us live in fear.