Marathon Report: Forest Hills Runners, Portland Branch

My heart has been broken time and time again over the last several days, by both the horrific and the beautiful. When the bombs went off, I was about three blocks away sitting down with my wife’s brother and putting my pants on.  I was close enough to hear the explosions and far enough not to know what they were.  We knew something was wrong - but not what.  It wasn't until we got back to our hotel room where the rest of the family was waiting and saw the relief on their faces and the mayhem on television that we realized the magnitude of what we had narrowly missed.

It is hard to encapsulate all the feelings that washed over me as I watched over and over again the video of the first explosion - the one that so very poignantly starts focused on a couple of children.  The whole week has been crazy; it appears that they finally have "suspect number 2" in custody, except that instead of giving us all the answers we want, he has become the focus of debates on the rights of prisoners.  I don't know how to reconcile the face of this young man with the images of destruction and carnage from Monday.

Boston is my adopted city.  It's where my wife and I first lived together.  I've run along the sidewalk where the explosions went off, bicycled down the street, and given lost tourists directions in those very spots.  FHR has a discount night at the Marathon Sports with the now blown-out windows.  Another group of friends friends gathered weekly at the Pour House, a bar just down the street, for beers, cheap chicken sandwiches, and laughter.

Marathoners are my people.  They are brave, beautiful, foolish people who put themselves through an ugly, painful, and unnecessary experience to see where their limits are and because they love the simple and ineffable pleasure of running.  They understand running when only the stars and moon can witness because it's the only time that fits their schedule, but also because of the purity and solace that are unique to early morning runs.  They understand the joy of sore muscles, the peacefulness of solitude, and the pleasure of solidarity.  These are my people, and they understand parts about me that I don't even know how to name.

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But for all that I felt for the marathoners - for that man that got knocked off his feet by the blast, for the couple pushing their loved one in a wheelchair stroller, for the people who changed from running for the finish line to running from the horror - I was a spectator before I was a marathoner.  When I first moved to Boston, we lived right off the marathon course.  It was a tough year for me - it was our first year of marriage, I wasn't working, and I didn't really know what to do with my life.  I remember going to watch the marathon and being stunned, and not by the runners.  I had been around runners for a long time and I knew all about the beautiful insanity of runners.  It was the spectators who amazed me.  It was the parents who bring their children out and teach them to hand out orange slices, cups of water, tissues, and otter pops (by the way - serious shout out to the kid who gave me an otter pop at mile 11.  That thing was unnaturally blue and totally a life saver).  It was the college kids who make a party of it by drinking and frolicking.  It was the way that total strangers spend hours to cheer on people they don't know and likely will never see again.  Until that moment, I hadn't known what to do with the dour New Englanders.  It took the marathon and its wonderful spectators to crack the surface of the city and make me fall in love with Boston.  And this year, it was my family - my friends and loved ones in the crowd as spectators spreading their love.

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And that was what was attacked.  I think there are plenty of things that are ugly in our culture: The consumerism, the disconnection from those around us, and the systematic inequities.  But those weren't things that the bombs targeted.  Instead, they targeted the father teaching his son generosity by giving food and water to grateful strangers.  They targeted the mother teaching her daughter about the beauty of taking on impossible challenges.  They targeted all the loved ones that I had cheering along the way.  And they targeted who I had been; a searching young man brought to tears by the love a city showed the crazy people running through it.

It would be easy to stop there.  It would be easy to look at the tragedy and see only the severed limbs, the grieving families, and the innocence lost.  But that would be a disservice to the marathoners, the spectators, and the people of Boston.  The Red Cross was able to turn away blood donors in part because there were marathoners who, instead of stopping when they crossed the finish line, continued running an additional 2 miles to the hospital on already wobbly legs.  The other image that is indelibly burned into my mind is the people breaking down barricades to reach the victims.  Some of these were trained emergency personnel, but many of these people were simply bystanders - brave people charging into a dangerous situation to help save the wounded.

The truth is that in the past week, I've been deeply touched more times than I can remember.  There are the big things that have stirred powerful emotions.  The saga of a young boy who, despite his baby face and well-loved persona, was still captured bleeding in the bottom of a boat after being involved in the craziest chase and manhunt that I've ever heard.  And on the other end of the spectrum, the way that community comes together to declare itself “Boston Strong” at the Bruins game.  The most powerful thing for me, however, has been the microcosm: I've been blessed with many loved ones dear and true who immediately reached out.  I've also been amazed by the people who, despite the fact that I haven’t seen them in years, or that grudge that we never fully buried, or whatever, have still reached out to me with genuine concern.  This is what I want to take from this last week: that “Boston Strong” is about the networks love, hope, and concern that stretch throughout the running community, but also throughout the city we all love.  It’s about caring for someone enough, just because they are there, that you are willing to hurdle barricades and risk a second bomb in the hopes that you can keep someone alive.  It’s about lining the streets 6 people deep – deep enough that the runners can’t see you, can only feel the thrum of your voice.  It’s about doing stupid, foolish, beautiful things because we are alive and we can.

Posted on April 23, 2013 and filed under FHR Updates.