The past few years have shattered the illusion of a safe place. Homes, schools and shopping malls are becoming fortresses. We all know what has happened to airplane travel. And now, the Boston marathon has been hit. The marathon is a unique combination of sporting event and a parade. I have been fortunate to have participated in the Boston marathon, so I am taking this personally.
Sometimes I still can’t believe that I ran the Boston marathon. This is a world-class event, and I got to participate. I was never an athlete in school. I was small, had no talent, and was busy with Speech and Choir, so not being an athlete did not bother me. I only started running when Bill gave me an iPod Nano for my 49th birthday, and I had to find some use for it. 6 months later I ran the Portland marathon in 4:20, and no one was more surprised than I was. The next year I qualified for Boston, and thought that was an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up.
I trained all winter, which was hard. But that April, Bill and I both went to Boston for the big adventure. I had run Portland twice so I thought I knew what to expect, but everything about the Boston marathon experience was enormous. The Expo went on forever and the crowds were huge. These were the fittest people on the planet, fantastic athletes. What in the world was I doing there? It was such an honor to be included.
The race route is different than Portland, because they bus you 26 miles out of the city, and you run through a bunch of towns to get back to Boston. It is fun and interesting to pass through these small towns, to see all of the homes and Main Streets. There is no school, so the roads are lined with families and kids. Tables are piled with treats, tissue boxes, water, and Vaseline that they hand out freely with a shout and a smile. People call out your name (printed on your running bib), the kids have their hands out for high fives. There is noise, the entire 26.2 miles.
Training runs are loaded with anxiety. You worry about cars coming around corners or out of driveways, dogs, or getting injured when many miles from home. Carrying water and food is a drag. It can be boring, and exhausting, and not fun.
Races are the payoff. You get to run in the middle of the street, have people hand out water and sports drinks (we get a choice!), are entertained by the hand-made signs, costumes, and decorations. Runners are cheered on along the entire route. It is a safe place.
I remember the Boston finish area with crystal clarity. It was the same, each time I raced it. The last few miles last forever, as you leave the small-town atmosphere and get into the city. The roads get wider and less interesting. You can see the buildings in the distance, and they don’t seem to get any bigger as you get closer. (Are you really getting closer? It doesn’t feel like it). Then, finally, you turn the corner and see the large sign with the time ticking up, measuring the fractions of a second that matter, here. The finish is right up ahead, and you give it everything you have, to leave it all on the course. It all seems so clear now – the runners next to you and just ahead of you, the officials to the side, the finish line on the ground that the fastest marathon runners in the world crossed – OK, it was about 2 hours ago, but it was the same race! You feel the exhaustion, the exhilaration, the pride. You wish your old PE teacher could see you now.
Then you cross the line and let it all go. Your time will matter later, but right now you bask in just finishing, cooling down, looking at the shiny medal that a smiling young man placed around your neck. You follow your fellow runners to the tables where water and food await, and you feel the sweat that drenches you now that you are not moving.
Even as I write this, it all comes back, and I can imagine the horror of running into chaos. The marathon is a safe place, and I know that the volunteers sprung into action and became even more heroic than they already were. (Hey, even the average Boston marathon is an incredible feat to pull off) I am confident that the people of Boston responded with all of the grit and ability that they are deservedly known for. We can’t make everything completely safe, and we have to be prepared to deal with awful events. But we don’t have to give up trust and openness. We need to be able to congregrate, and cheer each other on when we do crazy, hard things.
We need safe places, and I pray to God that we will find a way to preserve them.