Boston: Finding Comfort

17 Apr

Living in Boston and loving my city means I feel obliged to post about what happened on Monday. But I also don’t feel prepared with anything to say – just a jumble of emotions that have yet to “settle” (will they ever) and a lot of disbelief.

I’m mad personally. This was the first marathon I have ever watched live (versus: marathons runs, marathons volunteered at, marathons watched on TV).  I watched it with friends and their two new babies.  We cheered for a friend of mine (who came in 46th! First in NH!) and we watched a guy eat half a cheeseburger at mile 25.2.  We yelled the names of every runner who had written their name on their arm or added it to their shirt. I didn’t even indulge in selfish thoughts of “I want to be running” which is typically what I think at every racing event. We were discussing the heady question of “Where is God during Suffering” at the precise moment of the explosions.  I’m mad that my Patriots Day holiday – the Red Sox winning, the sun shining down on proud spectators and runners alike, time with friends – was ruined.

I’m mad on behalf of the runners.  Those who finished – who were put in lockdown or herded into area hotels or saw horrific images or crossed the finish line while no one was watching because a bomb was going off.  And those who did not finish – who thought their biggest concern was cramps or dehydration or a past injury and not personal safety and safety of those waiting for them at the finish.  Those who trained all those months and all those miles for one day and then were not allowed to finish their race.  Those who were stranded without phones, wallets, keys, warm clothes, knowledge of loved ones, ways to get home.  No one should finish a marathon without a medal…let alone without a finish line and food and water to fill their depleted bodies.

I’m mad on behalf of the victims. We all are. That people lost their lives, their limbs, or are otherwise injured because they were in the right place (the finish line) and someone chose to make that the wrong place.  A celebration of what the human body (and the stubborn human mind) is capable of became a horrific tragedy as those watching people run suddenly lost their own freedom in that regard.

I’m sickened that someone would do this. Someone or multiple someones would plan this – not at a military base or some political arena – but here, in the heart of Boston near my Public Library and the candy store and the running store where I just bought my latest marathon sneakers.

I’m distressed that some runners have to live with the knowledge that their loved ones were harmed because they were being supportive.  It feels selfish enough, as a marathoner, to ask people to come and cheer and support you while you run 26.2 miles…to put up with your exhaustion and potential grumpiness if you don’t meet a goal and your need to walk down stairs gingerly.  There is a lot of waiting for the spectators.  As a marathoner, you want people there.  People who know you. But you never imagine that at the end of the race, you will be the healthy one and they will be rushed to a hospital.

And the running community is awesome.  Runners love talking about running, they love how running transcends other areas of life and teaches you to make goals but also to adjust to the elements and forces out of your control.  They love to help other runners run better, to persevere over injuries and come back stronger.  To make sure everyone – from the first place Elite to the last place walker – has an enjoyable experience and came away learning something new about themselves and their ability to push hard.  Runners help each other.  That’s why it doesn’t surprise me that runners were running to the hospital to give blood or giving their finishers’ medal to another runner who got stopped before the finish.

And Bostonians may be tough and aggressive but threaten their city, harm their visitors, endanger their children and…they become more tough and aggressive.  But with a tender side.  The Google Doc of people offering food, shelter, transportation was staggeringly long.  I’m from New Hampshire so I’m not surprised by the outpouring of hospitality that was offered…but I am pleased to see a city (rather than the countryside) react to a scary unknown event by inviting unknown people in. This is why community, wherever you live, is so awesome.

As I type this, birds are chirping (it is spring after all) and the city is coming to life.  Cities are noisy places. So noisy that you get used to it – a dull loudness that you can never get far away from.  On Marathon Monday morning, I biked 25 miles out of the city – I needed some peace and quiet before all the cheering and celebrating. I needed to release some energy and frustration.  I needed to get out of the claustrophobia that city life can bring.  I remember thinking “Wow, its so quiet and calm.” And I loved it.

Fast forward a few hours.  A loud noise…is that a failing generator?  But no…why are the police running, literally sprinting, towards the finish line?  Why are runners being turned away from the course?   And then, unlike the day the hotel generator caught fire and all of Boston went dark – no electricity, no noise – for over a day, the city is suddenly screaming.  From 3 pm until 1o pm, the wail of fire trucks and ambulances and police cars, but especially ambulances, help us God, was incessant.  The overhead beat of blades on wind of the media and police helicopters was constant (a hum and throb that did not let up, louder than your heartbeat but just as consistent).  So this is what a police state looks like.  SWAT teams on each street corner…in their camouflage (designed to stand out, rather than blend in)…large weapons at the ready.  Police everywhere.  Everywhere.  42 cop cars were parked on the Charles River Bike Path that evening – a path used for runners and bikers became a police gathering spot.  As did so many other “high runner areas.”

I had always thought the city loud.  Yet when the wailing stopped late at night and my apartment fan blocked out the helicopters and there were no more blasts of water cannon and phones stopped ringing and the cell service resumed, it seemed eerily quiet. I could finally contact people also living in Boston, not just those many states away.  No longer did your phone seizure as it received 50 text messages, then sit stone still for another hour while service was diverted elsewhere and all calls were dropped and half the text messages said “From Unknown: Message Unknown.”

On one hand, we were here experiencing it. On the other hand, we were trapped in a bubble, calling outside to find out information about what was happening mere blocks away.  It was scary.  It wasn’t until yesterday afternoon, when I lowered myself into the pool to swim my 33 laps and all was quiet and warm and comforting, did I realize I had been shaking most of the day.

And it wasn’t until late Monday night, when I took off my Napa Valley Marathon shirt – (horrifying to think something could have happened there…that my Mom & sisters could have been injured waiting for me at the finish line…can I ever invite someone else to another race?)  Will I ever walk to the library or bike down Boylston St or run the sidewalk (like I do dozens of times a month) without remembering this tragedy? – that I was finally beginning to grasp what had happened.

I looked at the two necklaces I wore:

The state of NH.  So proud of Brandon being the first NH resident. So proud of his achievement and relieved that he is safe (who ever thought I would be more worried about a marathoner’s safety than their electrolyte levels and IT band?).  So wishing I was in NH right now but torn because my city needs me and I need it.

My marathon necklace – 3 distinct charms.  A recent birthday gift from another runner.  Before where I saw perseverance and determination and love of running, I now think of the 3 lives lost.  3 people who never get to run again. And when I woke up the next morning and ran 3 miles (because I’m a runner and that is how we cope with stuff even when the stuff is now inextricably linked to running) I devoted each mile to one of them and their families and friends.

Yesterday, we gained a lot.  A new love for our city, a new protective spirit towards our city, our community extended itself to encompass thousands of visitors and runners.  But despite the power in helping and the officials who are actively working the crime scene still, we also lost.  We lost unique individuals who were much loved. We lost freedom and security and innocence.  We have wonderful hospitals that are the envy of the nation…but no one is envying the people lying in hospital beds and the people pacing and praying in the waiting rooms.  We gained worldwide support…but no one wants to be the city in the spotlight for such a tragic reason.

And in the stillness of my bedroom, gazing at the necklaces…in the stillness of the pool, listening to my heavy breathing…in the morning birdsong, stretching into my stride…I can only say “Have mercy on my city, God. Have mercy on those hurting and those scared and those who saw horrific things and those still working to make our city safe again and to uphold justice. And have mercy on all those everywhere who experience tragedies – those who don’t have SWAT teams and media coverage and the NY Yankees singing Sweet Caroline and Google creating Find People search engines.”

Once again, I have the seen the holy and the unholy converge. And the holy perseveres.  I see strangers sleeping in my apartment and neighbors talking to each other and police men crying and women hugging sweaty runners and community forming and strangers giving blood and doctors answering pagers and people turning belts into tourniquets and a race about first place becoming a day about finding a place for everyone and, in this moment, at least, I find some comfort.

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