Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Watching from the sidelines

Late last week, I got about halfway through a post about the Boston Marathon, but left town before I had a chance to finish writing it. I wasn't running it (I haven't yet qualified to do so), but have had absolute "Boston fever" for weeks, as I've read the posts of my friends in the running community who were preparing for it. I planned to write about the mix of emotions that came with sharing their experiences: excitement, jealousy, nerves, and anticipation for the day I get to live my own Boston journey. Toward the top of my "life list," and that of many marathon runners, is qualifying for - and running - the hallowed Boston Marathon. I'm not a naturally gifted runner, and speed does not come easily to me. It has taken me many years of building a foundation to even be able to consider trying to qualify, but I'm proud to say that I'm awfully close. I will turn 40 in 2014, and it's been my goal for many years now to make it to the show before that big day arrives.

Over the past many months, I've watched as friends have qualified, been accepted into the race, and made their travel arrangements. I read with excitement as they descended upon Boston over the weekend, and waded through the marathon expo. I checked Facebook compulsively all morning on Monday, to see how they were feeling before the race, and to find out about their finishes. It wasn't my big day, but it was a lot of other people's big day, and I enjoyed those race-morning jitters right along with them. I know what it took to get there. I know about the sacrifices that their families and friends made to support them through the long months of training, and to be there with them on race day. Those 29,000 runners, and all of their many supporters, have my complete and total awe and respect.

Today, of course, I write a very different post about the Boston Marathon, and describe a very different mix of emotions. Much has already been said, and much more eloquently than I could say it, about the tragedy of the bombings and the lives lost on Monday. All that's left for me to do is to process my own reactions at this point, which I've been avoiding doing. Not only is it wrenchingly painful to think about what happened to all of those people, to the running community, and to the city of Boston, I also have guilt about a lot of the selfish things I thought that day.

I thought first of my own friends who were there running and cheering. I was glad that they're fast, and would have crossed the finish line well before the bombs exploded, and hoped they had cleared the finish area in time to be safe. I waited anxiously to hear from everyone, and in the meantime, my thoughts drifted. Of course I watched the reports with horror, and thought with deep sadness about the victims. But I also thought: "Had I not gotten injured last year, I might have qualified and been there. Those could have been my loved ones on those sidelines." I winced as I read about runners who were diverted off the course, within just a mile or two of their finish, and felt their agony. But I also thought: "Oh, great. I'm finally going to qualify for Boston this year, and the 2014 race is going to get all filled up with all of these runners who will be granted entry into the race next year, since they didn't get to finish." I shook it off, and decided I would devote myself more fully than ever to the task of qualifying this year, so that I could be there next year to run in solidarity with the victims. But I also thought: "Yeah, but every other runner in the country is having that same thought right now. I'll never get in." I thought to myself: it matters not, because I will get there eventually. But then I thought: "But the race will never be the same. They've ruined this for me." For me, I thought.

It was, I think, too much to absorb at first. Tragedy is like that. We have to break things down into pieces that make sense, and at first I had to think about it in personal terms - how did what I was seeing affect me, and my own family and friends? Perhaps it's the cognitive side of the "fight or flight" instinct: What does this mean to me? Am I safe? But I continued to watch and read, began to integrate what I was seeing, and understand what it meant. I sat and sobbed all afternoon, weeping for the losses, and what they meant to so many.

I'm very committed to the notion of myself as a piece of the larger whole. One neighbor in a diverse city. One participant in a complex democracy. One pair of feet in a community of runners. It's hard for me to admit to self-serving thoughts and actions, but they most certainly happen - and often. But I suppose that's part of what elevates humanity. We are more than our selfish instincts and drives. We have our dark moments, but we can bring ourselves back into the light. The animal instinct is to duck and cover when a bomb explodes. But the human instinct is to then look around and see who needs our help. As the stories that emerge from the 2013 Boston Marathon will no doubt serve to remind us: humans are good at creating tragedy, but we're also capable of mighty triumph.


  1. Amy-This is a well done post and I've read alot of them (some I have commented). It's okay to feel that way. My first thought when I read the times of the explosion would have been when I crossed the finished line. It freaked me out to no end.

    And you will get in and be strong with everyone else there. I'm sure it will be a touching and more inspiring Boston Marathon in 2014 the world has ever seen. You will be a part of that history.

    1. Oh, thank you! I do hope I get to be a part of that history ... but if I'm not, it will be because it will be an important piece of history for so many. All I can control is my own qualifying, so that's what I'll focus on for now!

  2. Can't wait to hear about your 2014 Boston Recap! I think all of your emotions are justified. It's been such an ordeal!

    1. I love your optimism - thank you! I look forward to having a historic race to recap!! Great seeing the city of Boston getting some closure around this ordeal in the past few days. I hope the families affected will find peace, too.