I met a young guy from Denmark in the long walk through the corrals after the finish line at the Boston Marathon. He had just PR’d, and I had just run the best race of my dang life, just waved like a madman to my wife and eldest son on Boylston Street, just had a sweet and smiling volunteer wrap a space blanket around me, another hang a medal around my neck. I was spent and ecstatic and grateful. Grateful for being able to run, for health, for the sunshine and the day and these people, these amazing people. And now as I and hundreds of fellow runners went on through the long corral toward the bag pickup and family meeting area, this guy and I chatted about what makes Boston special.
I asked how he’d done. “They have the best crowds in the world here,” he said, beaming, elegant, rolling Scandinavian accent. I agreed. Twenty six point two miles of pure New England spirit. Your ears hurt when you finish the Boston Marathon, in a good way. We talked. For a minute the guy from Denmark and I were old friends. We shook hands, or fingers at least, since we were both clutching the bags full of snacks they give you, water, bananas. This is what runners are like post marathon. The barriers are down, and otherwise restrained folks hug volunteers and strangers and tell their wives and kids the “I love you’s” that they ought to say more often. We parted at the bag pickup and the sky was blue and I got my bag and found my way to the family meeting area for the people whose last name begins with B and rolled out my legs, put on some deodorant and slipped into my Boston 2013 shirt. There are few moments in life when you are simply happy and thinking of nothing but gratitude, content. Kris and David arrived, beaming, and we embraced. David, who is 10, took a picture of Kris and me. We have a lot of post marathon shots together, she and I, but this one is the best.
We met friends from our New Hampshire running club for drinks at the Four Seasons, where the staff all applaud when you walk into the lobby with your medal on. A ridiculous splurge, but for a lot of us, marathon day is third only to Christmas and Easter. Better than a birthday by far. And I wanted my son to get the whole Boston experience. I wanted him to love marathons the way I do, or at least understand why I do. We posed for pictures with friends, compared race stories, how did you fare in the hills, brother, how many Gu’s did you take?
And then one of our friends came in. She’d just finished when something exploded amidst the spectators on Boylston Street. And the runners in the finishing corrals had begun to run. They ran another mile after the marathon she said. And her eyes had that look in them that you don’t see often here in New England. Tears and genuine fear, haunted and horrified. One of the guys hugged her. Congratulated her on finishing and was still smiling. Because we didn’t know.
I don’t think any of us understood it then, how bad things had just gotten. The staff in the Bristol Lounge had turned the televisions to the news and they were showing smoking, smashed places on Boylston Street where David and Kristen had just been. Where we’d all just run by.
But we still didn’t know, really.
Kris had parked at Alewife and we figured it was time to go, so we collected our friend Joseph, a strong Kenyan masters runner who on the right day for him (not this day) might have run a 2:24 and won his division, and headed for the T. People on the sidewalks knew something was happening, but not what. The first T stop we came to was closed, and all were being directed to the big stations. Faces were anxious. A few people were crying. Someone who’d been walking with us, who I’d fallen into a chat about race times with, borrowed my phone to call for a ride. He tried to get through three times. All circuits were down. We headed for South Station and my phones – work and personal phones – began to chirp. Text messages. Facebook and Twitter. A flood of anxious questions from family and friends and colleagues. But no phone circuits available. Just text after text. That’s when we knew that whatever had happened wasn’t a gas main or transformer or anything normal, or explicable. Whatever had happened had just echoed from Boylston Street, all the way around world, and back to my phone via dozens of anxious loved ones.
I walked fast then, marathon legs or no. I wanted my wife and son on the train and on the way home. Sirens.
You know the rest. Or as much as I know. The two bombs, the hundreds of terrible injuries, the three dead and more just hanging onto life. As we listened, mourning, to the radio reports on the car radio as we drove north on 95, a pall settled over us. It contains the stony weight of shared sorrow, and who knows when it will lift. These were our people, all of them.
Our son went off to school today and he was okay, but he had a hard time getting to sleep last night. We’d prayed together, with all the kids, and I told him, it’s okay, it’s okay.
And somewhere in me, I believe it. It’s okay. It has to be. It’s horrible, and lives have been ended, and more have changed beyond recognition, and the world is not a safe place. But I love you, son, and it’s okay because that’s the best we can do; love each other. And keep running. Evil is not a thing, it’s a lack of a thing. It’s a void where the relationship between God and something, someone, in the world ought to be. We can fill that space, leave no room for evil. I would not necessarily have run Boston again next year. There are other marathons to explore in the limited time we have. But now I know I’ll register. I told David that: I’m registering for this race next year. Let’s not be afraid. Lets fill the world with life and be damn well defiant about it.
Isaiah said, “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.”
Let’s love each other. Let’s choose to run this race together, as old friends who have never met. Because as bad some days are, Boston crowds are the best in the world and this race, however you choose to run it, is the one we’ve been given to run, this is the world we’ve been given to fix, and these people in our lives are the ones we’ve been given to care for, to cherish, and to let care for us.
Sleep tight, son, because there’s good work ahead of us, and a race to run.