Anger in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

Runners recover from the shock of the Boston bombings

There's really nothing like running a big marathon. By "big," I mean the type of marathon that attracts thousands of runners and a million or more spectators. In the U.S., this means New York City, Chicago, and the Marine Corps Marathon. Internationally, that list includes London and Berlin. Some 40,000 like-minded individuals take to the streets and as many as two million family members, friends, and sports aficionados line the streets. The energy is magical.

And then there's the Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon is the ultimate for anyone who is serious about taking on the 26.2 mile race distance. There are people running the race who have not met the time standards (in runner lingo, that's your BQ, or Boston Qualifier, a certified race finish time that falls within established parameters based on sex and age)—charity and international runners—but for most, getting to Boston means years of honing one's skills, hours spent training and ever running toward a faster time. While I've run a lot of marathons, everything from tiny trail marathons where I've run alone through the woods to being part of those previously mentioned "big three" (Marine Corps was my first marathon, I've run Chicago twice, and New York has been experienced as both a runner and a spectator), I've never qualified for Boston. I may never. Many of my friends qualify and run, and I've followed the race avidly. My hope, which I've long stated in a semi-joking tone, is that I'll go when I'm 80...when my stubbornness, age, and the BQ times all align.

Yesterday's carnage at the finish line filled me with unspeakable horror; like many of my friends, I was glued to Facebook and Twitter, trying to find out who had been affected and who remained unscathed. At one point, watching video, I began to shake and cry. As the details of the bombing slowly emerged, I found myself often speechless, unable to articulate what I felt. Overwhelmed, I sat in front of the TV that evening, skipping the work I needed to do and trying to process what had happened. Somebody—unknown as of yet—had placed two backpacks with explosives in the final finishing segment on Boylston Street among the crowd of spectators lining the route. The explosives were detonated within seconds of each other. As of today, three are confirmed dead and many injured.

This morning, I woke up angry.

The crowd at a finish line is full of families, loved ones, grandmothers, husbands, children, people who have for whatever reason decided to spend time celebrating what is, for many, a kind of a head-shakingly crazy event:  "I'm going to push myself to run as fast as I can to cover 26.2 miles, and it would mean a lot to me for you to be there while I run by for three seconds." My family has done just that many times. In the process, they cheer on everybody else while they stand around for hours, awaiting my sweaty appearance. The crowd at a marathon (and most other spectator-friendly sporting events) is a wonderfully joyous and supportive group. While there are always those who hate the fuss and shake their fists at the disruption a marathon can cause to a city, it's an awesome display of civic pride. I'll never forget standing next to an elderly lady on the bleachers at Central Park, watching the NYC marathon runners stream in; she was dressed to the nines, holding a tiny transistor radio, and making "announcements" to the crowd regarding the lead runners.  "Oh, doll; I would never miss this," she explained when I asked if she was watching for anyone in particular.  She wasn't—she and her friends had a tradition of marathon viewing and then brunch, and she'd been doing it for something like 20 years. Between the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd and the lines of New York's Finest who kept order, my heart swelled with pride for the city and the runners. Make no mistake: Those big marathons are national monuments, just as surely as are the White House, Mount Rushmore, the Pentagon, and other sites across our nation—marathons just move a lot faster.

In the abstract, I understand terrorism. The goal is to disrupt society and spread fear in the name of furthering a cause. The difference between an act of terrorism and a massacre like that at Sandy Hook lies in the intent; although we'll never understand what drove a young man with a gun to attack an elementary school, his demons were personal and his actions not those of a rational being. It's the supposed "rational" aspect of terroristic acts that eludes my understanding and makes me so furious. Who sits down and thinks through an action like this? What kind of political agenda is more important than the lives of innocents? Why is violence the "best" course? What kind of coward anonymously dumps a backpack and walks off to kill regular people who are doing nothing remotely harmful?

I refuse to let this act change me in any way. This—I search my vocabulary for a print-appropriate word—bomber has not changed my feelings about the Boston Marathon; nothing about this act will influence me in any way to change my politics. Whatever cause I'm supposed to learn of, fear, or support has become, by this very act, a tainted and stupid exercise. The only answer to a terrorist event is to quash the terrorist. And before we put this beast on trial for punishment, I'd like to see the perpetrator have to run the marathon course so that all can witness what kind of person does this. No hiding behind a backpack, no distance between perpetrator and victim, no intellectual justification. Just 26.2 miles and seeing exactly what a person is made of.


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