I have a tendency to go mute in the wake of tragedy. I flail around - what can possibly be said or done to make anything better? I choke on words, I huddle close with my family, I mourn silently. Thankfully, others are more brave.
I am honored to share this post, written by an amazing mother and woman. She has run several marathons, one of them being the Boston Marathon. Out of the deep loss she felt from Monday's horror, she took the initiative to organize a tribute run last Wednesday night. I unfortunately was not able to attend, but asked her to share with us her experience. This is what she said:
It started with a voice mail from my friend (that I didn’t listen to). Then a strange text from my cousin, “Are you in Boston?” Then a text from another friend, “Have you heard about the marathon? Do you know anyone who’s there?” I was at work, knee deep in the daily deluge of timelines and fires to fight and had no clue what was going on in real life. Of course I knew it was marathon day, anyone who has run the blessed event holds Patriots Day in their hearts. My mind immediately went to a happy place as I contemplated these texts (and I still hadn’t listened to my voice mail) - someone must have broken a course record or something else cool. I thought about the thrill of the race and how fun and exciting that day was for me in April of 2011, with my family watching as I proudly crossed the finish line on Boylston Street, accomplishing a life goal.
My phone then rang. It was my husband and I just knew something was wrong. “Did you hear about the bombs that went off at the Boston marathon?” he asked, “they were right at the finish line. Right where we watched you in 2011. People are dead and many are hurt.”
I went numb as thoughts and emotions swirled in my mind. Confusion. Disbelief. Shock. Horror. What in the hell had happened?
I checked online and studied the unraveling story. How could this be? Why would anyone target a marathon for gods sake? This was Boston. BOSTON. 117 years proud. The esteemed marathon of the world. And why at the 4 hour time frame – when the pros are done and the age groupers, fund raisers and memorial runners are finishing the race of their dreams with Boston’s famous spectators out in full force. Cheering for people they don’t even know. Sharing their love in ways only those on the course could understand or appreciate. Why?
Calls, emails, texts and Facebook posts rolled in from my family and friends – all asking the same thing – “are you in Boston?” There is a funny halo effect after doing a marathon – your “village” assumes you do every marathon, every year. And it made me realize what a unique impression I have made on my loved ones. It also made me realize how loved I am and why my family flew across the country to wait for hours just to cheer me on for the 5 seconds they saw me.
Coming home on Monday night, I prepared myself to address this tragedy with my 4 year old son. How would we tell him that bad people purposely hurt innocent people? How would we protect him from fear? This would be a long night. Luckily, he’s still young enough to lack the skepticism and emotional scar tissue we adults carry, and with a simple and honest explanation of the happenings of the day, he went off to play with his toys. Phew.
After the kids were asleep, we turned on the news and I finally saw the enormity of the attack. The carnage was beyond my imagination. The pictures I saw online earlier were benign compared to the malignant realities the video clips revealed. Learning about the many children who were harmed and the footage of the children in wheel chairs…at hospitals…killed sent me over the edge. I couldn’t stop crying. Real, heaving tears. Pain. Fear. Anger. I did what every parent does when they see children on TV in pain – imagining my own children suffering from this senseless act. Only this time, it felt too familiar. My husband and son, just two years old at the time, were literally right where the bombs went off just 2 years earlier. I still remember seeing my mom cheer me on from the same place where blood now covered the ground and people’s lives were forever changed.
I was in a daze and once I was able to fall asleep, which was in no way easy that night, I had horrible dreams. When I awoke on Tuesday morning, I realized that I had forgotten a basic element of my daily self care routine – I’d slept in my contacts. Something I hadn’t done in years. I realized how shaken I was. Little things that I’d normally let roll off my back reduced me to tears. I couldn’t stop hugging my son and baby daughter. I couldn’t stop crying. This would be a long day.
My husband called me in the late morning and shared that A Runners Mind running shop in Burlingame was hosting a memorial run for Boston that night. “Let’s do it” I said without a whim. Grandma and Grandpa entertained the kids and we headed over to meet up with 50 plus strangers, all bonded by sorrow and connected as runners. We took a moment of silence, then ran one mile to the San Mateo high school track, where awaiting us were TV cameras (quite a surprise) and two runners that had come back on the red eye after running the Boston Marathon on Monday. The woman had tears in her eyes as she recounted her experience and hugged her running family. The man shared that a last minute change of plans kept he and his brother away from the blast zone.
The shop owner put out three pairs of shoes next to the track – one for each of the spectators that was killed. He motivated our 3 mile circular run by reminding us how lucky we are to be able to run, and to dedicate each mile to the people whose lives were tragically cut short. Those of us who had run Boston before wore our gear and it felt good to move, to remember and mourn.
Earlier in the day, I had sent an email to my running pals here in Pacifica, letting them know about the memorial run that night in Burlingame. None of them could make it given various family obligations, but they all shared that they wish they could come and that they too were sad. I wanted to hug them, to run with them and to talk. On a whim, I decided to organize an impromptu “Boston Appreciation Run” for Wednesday night.
As the details of the Boston bombing tragedy continued to emerge, the theme of children resonated louder and louder for me. The death of sweet Martin Richard, whose inviting smile and amazingly insightful “No more hurting people” sign burned in my mind. His six year old sister and mother also injured, a family forever changed. The many other children being treated at hospitals for burns, wounds and amputations. The group of kids from Newtown who were close to the bombing. Who would ever have guessed that a happy day out to cheer on runners would forever impact their lives in such a negative way?
On Wednesday evening, my husband, children and I stood waiting to see who would show up. Given the last minute nature of the run and the limited promotions I was able to execute, I wasn’t sure if anyone would come. Slowly, several people, many with children, arrived. Some I knew while others quickly became friends. I said a few words and though I told myself I wouldn’t cry, the tears flowed as I looked around at the beautiful little faces, likely confused about why we were talking about bombs and death and injuries. I could see it in their body language - weren’t we there to run? Heck yes we were! Off we went, with the kids running much of the way, playing tag, laughing, loving. This was the therapy our souls needed and the medicine that filled my soul with inspiration and hope for our future.
We runners are all from the same tribe. Just as surfers paddle out to form a circle when a loved one dies, we get together and pound the pavement (or track, or sand, or trail), together. I refuse to live my life in fear and the monsters that committed this atrocious crime picked the wrong athletes to mess with. We are tenacious, we are strong, we are committed and we will never stop moving forward.
As the T-shirts say, Boston Stands As One. Boston, we stand with you.