My wife had the TV on when I got home from work. News of the Boston Marathon bombing was breaking. I popped my tie, unbuttoned my shirt at the throat and slumped onto the couch.
I had been a runner in my youth. Forty years ago running was just beginning to come into its own as an accepted sport. Many times we runners were mocked by the locals as we tooled down the streets and roads of the sleepy little town where I attended undergraduate school.
Back then, runners stood a world apart from most athletes. Running was a lonely sport. The only glory one could hope for was the moment of hitting the tape at the finish. Many who ran seldom felt that exuberance, but they were runners just the same.
A runner’s strength lies in his lungs and legs — the lungs oxygenate the blood, the legs carry him along. If a runner has been true to himself, he finds himself spent at the finish. If he’s in good shape, he recovers quickly. He wipes the sweat from his brow and takes his victory lap. All is well — until the next race.
Imagine pushing the pace for 26 miles, lungs and legs burning. You round the final turn into the home stretch. Up ahead the finish line awaits. It won’t be long now. Just keep the pace, swing the arms, drive the legs, keep the rhythm — and soon you will be there.
The roar of the crowd surges in your ears, easing the pain in your body. A few more steps, then — an unearthly blast deafens your ears, a ball of orange flame blinds your eyes, smoke chokes your throat. Your legs give out as you collapse to the ground. It takes several eternal seconds before you realize that those legs that have carried you 26 miles are now pummeled with nails, ball bearings and shards of metal.
National tragedies affect all of us. As a people we grieve, as a people we stare in disbelief, as a people our anger rises collectively. Once again we question another senseless act of violence, devised and delivered by deranged malevolent minds.
Only this time round I am touched at a deeper level, for I too have been a runner. In a special way these wounded are my comrades, once fleet of foot, suddenly cut down moments before their final finish, lives shattered forever.