“… let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
April 2010- 114th Boston Marathon- My first Boston Marathon. I wore my name on my shirt following the advice of a friend who’d run the race many times. I felt like a rock star the entire way as people shouted out my name.
As I reached the middle of Heartbreak Hill, I heard my name. Slowly at first, but the closer I got the the top, the louder and faster the chanting became. I looked ahead to see a large group of Boston College boys cheering my name in unison. As I reached the peak, they broke out into deafening applause as though they had conquered the hill themselves. It almost made me want to turn around and climb it all over again. Almost.
April 2011- 115th Boston Marathon- My second Boston Marathon. I had been struggling off and on with a hamstring strain and was unsure of how this race would turn out. At the finish, I was so overcome with relief that I sobbed when the volunteers put the medal around my neck. As I walked down the line of volunteers, each one I passed reached out and patted my shoulder or squeezed my arm. The woman who gave me my medal gave me a huge hug. I didn’t know her, but at that moment we were connected.
April 2012- 116th Boston Marathon- My third Boston Marathon. It was hot. Very, very hot. Spectators were out in full force handing runners extra water. Some had their sprinklers on in their front yards encouraging runners to run through. At mile 15 a woman stood on the left shoulder passing out wet paper towels and ice. I went to grab a towel, but missed. Knowing that if I stopped running for even a second I would never start again, I kept going. Not five seconds after I passed this woman I noticed her running next to me.
“Take this. You need it,” she said.
Before I could thank her, she was gone to pass out more towels to more desperate runners.
April 2013- 117th Boston Marathon- My fourth Boston Marathon. More acts of love, compassion and kindness than I can do justice in this short space.
Boston is a special place. It always has been, but now the world has taken notice. The marathon in particular is special. It’s a place where spectators and runners share a symbiotic relationship. There are times when the line between participants and cheerleaders is a little blurry. The cheering is so intense you would think the spectators had a personal stake in your success. People shed their winter clothes, pull out the lawn chairs, fire up the grill and cheer on runners, and the onset of spring, for hours. This marathon is the ultimate celebration of life and renewal.
This year the celebrations were cut short in the most violent and unexpected way. In an effort to try to begin healing from the heartbreak of that day, I’ve made an effort to focus on the numerous acts of kindness and try to find something good in all of this to cling to like a life raft.
The healing process is going to take time. The hardest part for me has been returning to a world that goes on as normal, but I don’t feel normal. I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to “normal” again. The things I saw and felt and heard in Boston that day have changed me to my core, but that’s not necessarily bad.
First, I’ve come to realize lives can change in a moment and those life-altering events don’t always happen to someone else. I admit that I used to think, “That would never happen to me,” when I’d witness a tragic event on the news. Understanding that cosmic shifts can happen anywhere at anytime to anyone has been like a bucket of cold water poured on my head. Since that day, I have been more present and aware of my surroundings. I’ve been more grateful for the simple joys in life. I am taking nothing for granted, not even the sound of my children’s snoring. I’d miss it if I could never hear it again.
Second, I know we all have to heal in our own way. I have many friends who felt the urgent need to get out and race soon after the Boston Marathon. To finish what others couldn’t was a necessary step. I, on the other hand, craved familiarity. This attack felt so personal to me, as though someone entered my home and attacked my family. I needed to hunker down and just be quiet. Patience with those who were there and are working through the crazy hurricane of emotions is critical.
Third, there is more good in the world than bad. Two people did some very bad things and their impact was far reaching, but countless others did more wonderful things with endless impact. They will be remembered long after the two bombers’ names have been forgotten.
Fourth, we are stronger than we think. Whether it’s the exhausted marathoner who continues running past the finish line to donate blood, or the unpaid volunteer who runs towards disaster to help others to safety, we are an incredible group of people who can rise above unspeakable acts of violence and hate.
This was supposed to be my last Boston Marathon for awhile, but I have some unfinished business there. To truly heal I need to return to those familiar streets. I need to draw strength and energy from those familiar crowds. I need to run past those familiar mile markers. I need to celebrate with familiar friends and family. As horrific as the 117th Boston Marathon may have ended, the 118th Boston Marathon will be as special.
May we all continue to be Boston Strong.