On the marathon (and a morning run)
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
- ‘The Testing-Tree’ by Stanley Kunitz
I lived with one of my best friends for three straight years as an undergrad at the University of Michigan. Ross was born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts (a town just outside Boston and along the marathon route.)
Ross is the kind of New England sports fan people write books and movie about. He has stories of sitting in the snow in Foxborough and opening days at Fenway.
Ross calls every Boston athlete by their first name. Toooooommy, he screams…even though I’m sure that, despite their Michigan connection, Ross has never met, and is certainly not on a first name basis with, Tom Brady.
I remember hearing Ross talk about the marathon. It’s more than a holiday, he’d proclaim with his typical Boston pride.
Ross’s description of this more-than-a-holiday holiday, included: Patriot’s Day off of school, walking along the route of the race, the beauty of Boston turning to spring, and athletes coming from all over the world to test their mental and physical strength.
To him this was more than a race, greater than any competition, and bigger than any marathon/event/holiday.
I had the opportunity to be in New York and Chicago for each city’s respective marathon last year.
In New York I watched proud children embrace their mothers and fathers in post-race hugs. I watched runners smile in pleasant exhaustion and wrap themselves in those ubiquitous, post-race silver blankets.
Idols in their children’s eyes. Idols in their friends’ eyes. Idols in my eyes.
26.2 miles is no joke.
In Chicago I cheered along the route before heading to the finish line to support a best friend and roommate who was attempting to complete his first marathon.
Andy finished the marathon in just around 4 hours…the same finishing time that many participants aim for, and that will be etched in peoples’ minds following yesterday’s tragic bombing.
After the race, Andy told me that the only reason he finished in the time he did was because of a runner he met at the starting line.
His new friend paced him and pushed him. Although Andy was technically running alone, other runners and a city full of spectators and fans were there to lend cheers and support.
A marathon is a beautiful athletic event.
Unlike other competitions, you don’t cheer against a team: you support everyone.
I suppose that the nature of tragedy is such that you hope that you’ll never truly become accustomed to the shock, desensitized to the emotion of profound loss.
In sadness, I always find myself returning to the Stanley Kunitz poem, ‘The Testing-Tree.’ I suppose that the real reason for this post, if I’m honest with myself, is because it gives me the opportunity to share Kunitz’s words—important words, at least to me.
It is necessary to go through a deep and darker dark and not to turn.
Yesterday afternoon, reports streamed out of Boston of racers, spectators, and first responders who didn't turn.
Police officers who ran into a blast zone moments after the explosions.
Runners who continued running, straight to the hospital to donate blood.
Ross and his friends tweeting, posting, getting out into their neighborhoods offering food, shelter, and mobile phones.
We need to carry on, through the darkness, without turning.
We are all runners; we are all humans. We are the father or the mother of a child lost. And our hearts break and break, but we live by breaking.
An act of terror is meant to scare a population into altering its behavior.
But our behavior isn't altered.
This morning I went for a run around Chicago. I purposely lapped around touristy destinations—circling Millennium Park as the sun rose.
I ran for many reasons, but one in particular kept coming to mind. Although I wasn't in Boston yesterday, I felt immensely proud—overly emotional, really—of every man and woman who was driven, in a moment of confusion and panic, to help.
I was proud of the spectators, proud of Ross and Boston residents, proud of the runners, and proud of the first responders. They give us strength, they unite us, they set the standard to carry forward.
Together, following their lead, we do not turn.