Very sad today after the bombings at the Boston Marathon. That sort of numb, pit-of-the-stomach icky sadness like after 9/11. If you grew up here, the marathon isn’t a race. The marathon IS Boston! You know all the folklore. Like Rosie Ruiz hopping the T and jumping off later to come out of nowhere and “win” the race. Like the infamous “Run for the Hoses” when the April spring temps soared into the 80s. Or the humbling strength of Dick Hoyt pushing his adult son with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair — this year for their 31st time! And of course, the infamous Heartbreak Hill.
Only today was a different kind of heartbreak.
Marathon Monday is special, it’s sacred. It’s Patriots Day, a state holiday marking “the shot heard round the world” in 1775 that began the war that resulted in America. The city’s famous swan boats are back in the Public Garden pond, the magnolias are blooming along Commonwealth Ave, and it feels like spring is really, finally here. And thousands of runners, family and friends come from all over to enjoy one of the world’s most famous marathons, run for 117 years. On Marathon Monday, everyone in the city is a Bostonian.
And a mindless, cowardly, violent act of terror cut right into the soul of this day. With several dead and many injured. I have stood in that exact spot — at that exact time — in past years. It’s inspiring to see the throngs of “everyday” runners coming down the street for those last few hundred yards, grinning, sprinting, struggling, striving to complete the unfathomable goal of running 26 miles. And it’s the only spot where non-credentialed people can see runners cross the finish line. I’ve been right there so many times. If I didn’t have a big work project I might have been there today.
As always, I watched the entire race on TV today, marveling at the strategy, rooting for an American man or woman to win and cursing those Kenyans and Ethiopians who always win — but in the end cheering them because they are our racers, too. We adopt them as our own and they embrace the city in kind. Then I flipped off the TV and finally sat down to work.
When my phone chimed in the late afternoon, I figured it was Mtuseni. We hadn’t talked all weekend. We were at another sticky point and I didn’t feel like engaging, though I had sent him a photo from the Boston website in the morning showing a South African couple here to run the marathon. Instead, the message was from a friend in the UK, saying, “Please tell me you’re not in the center of downtown now.” I thought to myself, “Uh-oh.” I went online, saw the news, and immediately felt sick. Not today. Not the Marathon. Not us.
I texted her back and said I wasn’t in town and was fine. Then, realizing that Mtuseni might wake up tomorrow and hear about the story and worry, I texted him saying there was a bombing but that I was okay. Being six hours ahead, I expected him to be asleep. But he immediately texted back “Are u serious?”
So Mtuseni and I chatted about the bombs and violence and terrorism. Him in his settlement shack at risk of the elements and worse, and me in my no-longer-risk-free city. I told him that a local newsman said he felt heartsick — a perfect word — and had to explain what it meant. As he said, “WTF is going on people finding pleasure in killing people?” Indeed. And he asked to confirm several times “but you’re okay and safe at home, right?” The same sentiments as those shared today by runners and spectators and family and friends — only this was with my new “son” half a world away. And I assured him I was fine and, as I have many times, said I love him… and that he should go back to sleep.
It feels like a new/old world here again, like after 9/11. Being vulnerable. Anticipating more security checkpoints. Feeling violated and a loss of innocence, yet at the same time a steely resilience. Everything can change in an instant. It can be a car crash, an errant blood clot, a bomb. The lesson that can be carved out of this madness is to be fully present and alive in each moment, and to make sure the people you love know it — whether they are in bed next to you or on the other end of the earth.
And I hope to be cheering at the marathon finish line next year. Whoever did this, you can’t break Boston. We won’t let you. See you in the Back Bay on Patriots’ Day 2014.
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