Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Choice

My enthusiasm for holidays has waned with adulthood. I don't dislike them in any way, but I find more enjoyment in unplanned moments. A planned day comes with so many expectations (at least it has for me) that the real thing sometimes fall short, particularly when stacked against thrilling childhood memories.  Ryan and I stopped celebrating Valentines Day a couple of years ago, deciding to instead focus on surprising each other throughout the year. I'm not saying this is the right thing to do -- I admire people who go gung-ho making holidays sparkle -- but it works for me and makes me happy.

Patriots Day in Massachusetts, on the other hand, never disappoints. That is the day of the Boston Marathon. And while I'm no longer a runner (I did some bizarre damage to my knees back in high school on the cross-country team,) I find myself, year after year, completely mesmerized by the event. The day never loses its luster.

Last Friday at the school where I teach, a bunch of us were congratulating a colleague who was running it for the first time. In the midst of our excited chatter, we found out we all shared something in common: this annual Boston event makes us emotional, shedding proud tears for people we've never met.

The Boston Marathon brings out the best in humanity. There are no political candidates vying for attention. Nothing to buy. No gimmicks. No teams. Nobody we're told to hate. (I've never understood the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.) Instead, it's simply witnessing thousands of people run by you who knock your socks off. Each one has an incredible story to tell, and each is fulfilling a dream, right in front of your very eyes. And you get the privilege of cheering them on! It just doesn't get any better!

Some parts of the individuals' stories are more obvious. Like the person that looked to be in his seventies who had on the sign thanking his doctor for four glorious cancer-free years. Or the woman running in memory of her late niece. Or the endless people selflessly raising money for a cause.

Every year that I go to the Marathon, I leave elated, thinking, "I can be great! I can be better! " It's like you get jolted by the energy there and want to literally run home to accomplish your own dream. Everything seems so possible, you can practically taste it.

Which is why yesterday broke my heart. And broke so many hearts. This wonderful event that allows us to jump and cheer for people we don't even know, people who look back at us, exhausted and smiling weakly; this event that wipes out cynicism from our rough-and-tumble city for a whole day; this example that there is great hope for our species to overcome and rise above any kind of wrongdoing. This event was attacked from behind.

This was traitorism of the worst kind.

People who did nothing more than to go for a dream and people who did nothing more than cheer them from the stands, saying, "I believe in you! I'm so proud of you! I knew you could do this!" These people now lie greviously injured in hospital beds, many on the brink of passing over into death. Some have already passed. Those who survive will never be the same.

And the question I know we are all confounded by is "Why?"  And a close second is, "Who could do such a thing?" There are no answers yet. And though they will surely come soon, those answers will bring even more questions.

My initial reaction is to physically hurt the person or people who did this. It's a primal, vengeful feeling, making my face hot and my heart pound. It makes me strangely wistful for placing the guilty party in a Roman arena with the victims' families and letting them do justice in whatever way they see fit. It's not a feeling I'm proud of or one that I would ever give in to. But it's there.

In fact, the more I ruminated on it, the more I realized that this is the opposite feeling from the post-Marathon elation. If good and evil really exist, then each of these opposing feelings represents these polar opposites within me. I have a choice now -- we all do -- about which way we'll go. And while I could never envision myself actually being violent, I know that that hot anger can still exist inside me, eating away at me.

So which do I want to entertain?

I choose the former. I choose to continue to be inspired by the runners, every single one of them, from the last person to cross the line to the first. I choose to work steadily towards my own dreams, buoyed by their example. I choose to look upon those who did this and think, "You simply have no idea how great life can be, do you?" And while the perpetrator undoubtedly holds no merit in what I or you think, I hold merit in it. And I choose inspiration.

Runners ~ keep doing your thing. And we'll be there to cheer you on.


  1. Katrina - as a Bostonian I also look forward to watching the marathon and cheering on the runners. When I heard the news about the bombing, it broke my heart. Watching the news and seeing my familiar town torn apart was distressing. But it was also uplifting to watch as people ran into the area to help, whether they were EMS, fire, police, volunteers, runners or by-standers.

    Then I thought of those who live through this kind of event almost every day, every week, every month and manage to go on, amidst constant fear and upheaval. It certainly puts things into perspective.

    I grieve for the lives lost, the limbs lost, the innocence lost.

    1. That's a great point about the people who live through such bombing on a regular basis. The strength that emerges from people is humbling.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Holli. As a runner, you must be especially affected by all this.

    2. As an aside, Holli, I love seeing all the pictures of you and your daughter. And I love that you call her Chicken. :)