At first I read the headlines figuratively – remembering how last year many runners suffered acutely from the heat, and not having the context to conceive of an actual bombing at the Boston Marathon, I assumed the headlines were about something quite different. Too quickly the truth became apparent. Terrorism at the Boston Marathon. Even when it doesn’t hit close to home, it’s horrifying. This time one of my best friends was running. The round of Facebook congratulations was still in full swing when the news came in.
We still don’t know who did this, or what sort of person or group is responsible. Maybe it was a lone crank – lashing out at athletes, lashing out at the government on Tax Day, or making some horribly misguided statement on Patriots’ Day. Maybe it was someone who chose this event specifically because they were angry to see other people successful and happy. Or maybe it was a coordinated attack – multiple cranks, either domestic or foreign. We don’t know but what I’m struck by is the poignancy of such an attack, at such a time and place, at such an event.
Because for anyone with even a tenuous connection to marathons in general and Boston in particular, it’s all about the joy of motion, and the joy of life. It’s about fitness and dedication and finding balance. I was with my friend in Portland when she qualified for Boston and I remember her elation, but I also know that it was one moment out of thousands – countless hours training in the worst weather that the Cascade foothills have to offer.
Ten mile runs, 15 mile runs, 20 milers, with nary a complaint – wind and rain that would defeat someone less dedicated – meaning almost everyone else. The point is, you don’t get to Boston casually. You get there because you are a person who can make a commitment and stick to it – who can choose vitality over sloth, optimism over defeat, courage over exhaustion. You’re a person who can do this, over and over and over again, for weeks and months without reprieve. It’s a huge deal, and an honor for those who make it.
The families and friends on the sidelines know this. They’re there to encourage, but in a larger sense they’re there to honor. The bombs were placed to cause maximum damage to the spectators – targeting a population who is there only out of love.
Is evil born or made? Nature or nurture? What could cause such a shutdown of empathy? According to Stephen Pinker, humans are getting better at it, but that’s cold comfort to those whose lives are destroyed by these pointless acts of violence. I wish them peace and the ability to maintain their own humanity in the face of evil.