I wasn’t in Boston on April 15, 2013 when the bombs went off, but I could have been. I was qualified to run, but chose not to go. If I had gone, chances are good I would have finished an hour or so before bombs changed the face of marathoning, maybe forever. But, here’s the thing, I feel more scared, shaken and just plain shocked than I did on September 11, 2001.
I don’t mean to insult the memory of those who died on 9/11, not even close. I remember looking into the clear, blue Chicago sky in the days after September 11. My office at the time was on Chicago Avenue and from a mile or so away looked at the John Hancock tower. I would look at it, squint, and imagine planes crashing into it. In personal horror, I would retreat to my office. About a month later, I stood on the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. I was fit and at the beginning of my break three hours journey and while I felt a little terrified, I convinced myself that the rhetoric of the day about not letting the terrorists win was my mantra. But even that defiant internal tone didn’t insulate me from the fear I felt as I ran past the (then named) Sears Tower. I didn’t hold my breath, you can’t do that and run, but whatever the running equivalent of that is, I did that. I had an upper respiratory infection that day and so didn’t finish that race. As a consequence, I replayed all my fears two weeks later as I stood near the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit at the start of the 2001 Detroit Marathon.
The country was still on high alert. The Detroit race, before 2001 and subsequently, crossed into Windsor, Ontario, Canada by bridge and returned by tunnel. Maybe vice versa, I am not certain. But, in 2001, the border was closed to the race. A frightened nod to the terrorists who had snuck across the US/Canadian border. I ran poorly in Detroit, but I ran, again in the defiant posture of the day — “if we don’t run, the terrorists win.”
In the eleven plus years since that horrible day in 2001, life has seemed pretty normal for most people I know. Again, I don’t want to insult the memory of anyone who died that day. What I see is that we have gone back to the business of living. We have collectively tried to show the terrorists that living in a free country means living freely. Sure, we make accommodations at the airport and we have surrendered more than a few of our civil liberties in the name of increased safety. It is worth noting, the growth of social media has us giving away as much privacy willingly as we complain that the government has taken from us, but we are ok with that because we chose it.
In the last eleven years, I and thousands of other runners have pinned on bibs, stood at starting lines, run races and, crossed crowded finish lines. Several times I stood at the finish line at the Chicago Marathon and watched an hour’s worth of runners cross the line. Boston’s tragedy today could easily have taken my life in Chicago.
Today in Boston, we learned that we might just be fooling ourselves into a false sense of security. I was reminded today of President George W. Bush’s words (I am no fan, but he is spot on with this) that terrorists only need to be right once, but we need to be right every single time (a bit of a paraphrase, but you know what I mean). Was I fooled into thinking that real life Jack Bauers and Carrie Mathisons would find the terrorists and stop them before they launched an attack. I was fooled and so were you and it feels awful. I am scared today and wondering just what to do. I am supposed to run a 10 mile race this weekend. I am sure I will run it, but I am thinking about it. I keep seeing the finish line and think about what happened, about the death and mutilation and I hope, selfishly hope, that it won’t find me.
My question then, is, what can we endure? I suspect my fear will subside if things get back to normal. Will things get back to normal? Is this the beginning of some new, scary normal. I don’t know. I am writing these words today so I can come back to them and ask myself how this changed me. I won’t ask tomorrow. I will still know then. I hope to ask in ten or twenty years. Running and racing is a very metaphor for freedom, but not today.
I am so sorry for the deaths and injuries that happened today at the Boston Marathon. I hope I never have to type those words again. What can we endure?