Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Boston Marathon Bombing - Good and Evil and the World we Live In

When something horrible happens, like the bombing at the Boston Marathon, really, all we can do is to keep on doing whatever it is that we do.  I’ve lived in Boston for 13 years.  And what I like to do is to run and to write.  So I thought I’d share my thoughts about what happened last Monday.

What’s good in the world

Running, to me, is a distillation of all that’s good in the world.  In the past six years, I’ve run 15 marathons and logged about 40 miles almost every week.  Running has become the center point of my life.  It is my hobby, my drug, my religion.  It is the reason I travel, the way I socialize and my reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  When I run, I feel physically and mentally invigorated.  If I run in the morning, everything I encounter during my day is just better.  Running is simple and easy and natural.  All you need is a pair of shoes.  All you have to do is walk out the door and go.  Instructional running books mostly try to teach you to shed your adult inhibitions and run like a five year-old.

And a marathon, to me, is everything good running has to offer, times ten.  It’s a travel destination, a way to explore a new place and to become fast friends with strangers.  It’s a competition, but without any of the chest thumping and machismo of most sports.  The only adversary is gravity, wind and your own physical and psychological limitations.  It takes a lot of hard preparation, but anyone can do it.  If you go out and run, and then run a little more and a little more again, you can do a marathon.

I’ve never run the Boston Marathon.  I’m too slow to qualify, too squeamish about asking for money to get a charity bib and too rule-following to be a bandit.  I’ll do it someday.  But I watch it every single year.  My favorite place to watch is just past the finish line.  I like to watch the expression on the runners’ faces the moment they stop running.  In one instant, they shift from almost unbearable pain and exertion to complete euphoria.  There is virtually nothing in the world that makes me misty.  But I often lose my breath and get teary looking into the eyes of some anonymous Joe slowing to a walk after crossing the finish line, who I don’t know and who I will probably never see again. 

Our friends Bob and his wife, Barb, from Colorado, stayed with us this year for the marathon.  Leslie and I got Bob all set up – walked him through the expo, drove him along some of the course, made him a pasta dinner, dropped him off in the morning at the bus staging ground and sent him off with some nip-guards, Gu, a throw-away sweatshirt and wishes for a great race.  Leslie and Barb studied the course map, plotted out places to watch and cross-referenced them with Bob’s expected pace  to make sure they would have time to get from place to place to see Bob a few times during the race. 

At dinner the night before the race, we were joined by Heather and Gail from New Zealand.  They were 50 and 70 and had run 15 and 33 marathons. Barb and Bob have been friends with Leslie since they were kids.  Heather and Gail were perfect strangers.  They were acquaintances of neighbors, looking for a meal the night before a marathon.  We were happy to have them.  That’s just how it works.

Marathon Monday

I was tracking six runners during the marathon – Bob, Heather and Gail, my friend Shawn from Ithaca, my morning running buddy Tim, and Wendy, a Canadian lawyer I had met at a business breakfast the week before the race.  I left my office at around noon to go down to my usual spot past the finish line.  I had to be back at my office for a call and left the finish line half an hour before the first explosion.  Bob finished the race, picked up his medal and bag and found Leslie, Barb and Leslie’s friend Daryl at the family meeting area.  They were walking towards the T when they heard the loud explosions.

Then everything went berserk.  No need to recap the details; the whole world saw it on TV.  We tracked down all the runners and spectators we knew.  They were all fine.  We all met back at our house.  For the next four days, like everyone, I stayed glued to my computer monitoring news, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.  It was heart-warming to get messages of concern from what seemed like every person I had ever met. 

You can’t spend too much time worrying about how things could have been different.  If my call at work hadn’t been pushed up an hour, I probably would have hung around longer at the finish line.  If one of the people killed by the bomb had seen a better spot ten feet away, they would probably still be around today.  But that’s how it works.  There are a thousand different paths you can take every second of every day.  But of the infinite possibilities, every life is just one single unfolding of events.  There’s no looking back. 

What’s Evil in the World and What do we Do About it All

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did something so incomprehensibly horrible, it’s hard even to process.  If the evil behind the marathon bombings lies in these two individuals, then we’ve accomplished everything we need to – capture or kill them.  The precision with which the police and military machine was able to identify and catch the two bombers was hard to fathom.  It took three days to find photos of them, five hours to identify them and 29 hours to kill and capture them.  I’m not a big military booster, but I was floored by how effectively the police and military were able to complete the task that had to be done. 

But if you look one slight bit below the surface and start thinking about what makes people do the things they do, things start to get a whole lot more complicated.  To say that every person is a manifestation of the influences that surround him, and of whatever happenstance circumstances happen to show up on the scene is not just a hippy-dippy, bleeding heart new age Buddhist mantra, it’s a reality.  We got the guys, but the guys are just symptoms of a disease.  And it’s my opinion, for better or for worse, that the disease is not something for which there will ever be a cure. 

The rote platitudes our leaders are obligated to spew – justice will be served; evil will be conquered; the spirit of our community will never be repressed – don’t resonate with me.  And while I understand the need and desire of some to show solidarity and demonstrate to the world that we will carry on as always, those kinds of sentiments don’t move me. 

Tomorrow’s terrorists will unfortunately not be deterred by seeing today’s terrorists brought to justice.  And they will not feel defeated by knowing that they have not broken our will.  So what do I think? Just keep on keepin’ on, I guess.   And what do we do?  If everyone got more cuddles, would that rid the world of evil.  No, but it would be a small step in the right direction.  The elements of good and evil are out there in the world.  Some of us are lucky enough to be born in a good time and place with good families and positive networks and somehow manage to absorb some critical mass of all that is positive.  And some of us just aren’t.  Some of us will absorb all that is evil.  I don’t think there will ever be an end to the terrible, incomprehensible atrocities that people commit. 

So there’s good and bad.  And we can each decide on any given day which we think has a leg up. Tragedies will strike and individuals will do horrible things.  I will keep running.  Boston will stay strong and proud.  And the universe will continue to unfold in whatever way it will. We’ve all gotta keep doing our thing and try, when we can, to enjoy the ride. 

That’s what I think of Marathon Monday and that’s what I think of the world.  

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