Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Boston Marathon: Split Time

It was a crystalline spring day in Boston, many would say the perfect day for a marathon. Clouds drifted across a brilliant blue sky while planes with banners advertising local businesses circled overhead. As my husband, son, and I made our way along I-90 to our marathon post, we watched dozens of fans parade across the bridge to the Red Sox game. Finally, it seemed spring had arrived, and with it all the hope and promise that comes with watching some 27,000 runners fulfill their dream of running the Boston Marathon.
An old college friend had flown in from Baltimore for the weekend and we’d been ribbing him about how crazy he was to put his body through 26.2 relentless miles. Still, there was something inspiring about listening to him as he mapped out his marathon strategy. He was calculating split times that would lead him to the finish line in about three and a half hours.

When our family arrived at the race’s half-way point in Wellesley, we parked and planted our collapsible chairs on the sidelines. Nicholas, our four-year-old, held a sign with our friend’s favorite mottos on it: “Don’t talk about it; BE about it!” And “Don’t quiver!” We watched the muscular wheelchair competitors zip by, soon followed by the elite women runners, and then, the elite men runners, all looking as if they’d hardly broken a sweat.
Nicholas loved the runners’ flamboyant costumes–Irish hats, tutus covering shorts, the funny man on stilts, the host of runners who had spelled out their names on their biceps, encouraging cheerleading. It was a glorious reminder of what makes the Boston marathon so special – a flock of thousands, runners and spectators alike–bound together by bonhomie, perseverance, dedication, hard work.  All are values we work hard to instill in our children, but it can be difficult to do so in the abstract. When those values come visibly to life in a throng of runners, however, it’s impossible not to be awestruck.

When our friend ran by us, we cheered like the crazy fans we were. He shouted out to Nicholas, which made my son cheer even louder. This, thankfully, is the thing Nicholas remembers most about the race.
Eventually, with the news that he’d crossed the finish line (we’d been tracking him on-line), we loaded up our chairs and headed home.  Once home, my husband and son headed to the park to toss around a baseball. It was then that I clicked on the computer, only to discover the horrific events occurring downtown. The newscasts were even more terrifying, showing the searing first images from the blasts.

I texted my husband, then raced to the park when I couldn’t reach him. Had he heard from Rodney? Like so many others, I told myself our friend was fine.  But my heart was sick with the uncertainty of not knowing what had happened to him or the hundreds of others who’d been at the finish line at that moment.
After a few frazzled minutes, we realized Rodney had sent us a text shortly after the explosions. He was OK. At home, we listened to the news while Nicholas played in another room, our hearts sinking with each fresh report.  Eventually, we learned that an eight-year-old boy was among the fatalities. It struck us breathless, as it did so many parents.

Here we’d been tracking the on-line split times of our friend, focused on a beautiful day, the triumph of spirit and sheer will. But after we got word of the explosion, it was as if time itself split in two: Before and After.  
Twenty-four hours later we got the devastating news that the mother of the boy who was killed is a dear friend of my husband’s cousin.  The tragedy seems incomprehensible. But now it feels even more real, as if it has taken up residence just down the street. And in the hours since, one heartbreaking story after another has spilled forth. So many families have been shattered by this horrific event. So many Bostonians feel a palpable pain.

Yes, Boston is strong. Yes, the city is resilient. Yes, the authorities will find the culprits.  As Bostonians, we will help each other as we always do; we will lace up our running sneakers and keep going. We will try our darnedest not to quiver. But countless families have been irrevocably broken. And for that, our collective hearts are aching, our sorrow infinite.

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