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Image courtesy of David L. Ryan, Boston Globe.

The first marathon began with death. It ended with death, as well.  In 490 BC, the Greek messenger Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to inform his countrymen that their army had held and defeated an invading Persian force. According to legend, after completing the 40 kilometer run, Pheidippides collapsed and died.

When you ask runners, they’ll tell you that every step of a marathon is about death, about dying to yourself, your comfort, and your physical desire to rest. In the immediacy and reality of two bombs being detonated near the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon, the history and metaphors attached to the marathon are distant, but eerily relevant. As a result of the explosions, the most recent reports indicate that three people are dead (including an eight-year-old boy) and 140 people are wounded.

There will be no shortage of unsympathetic misanthropes pointing out with a disturbing eagerness that violent incidents from around the world frequently afflict greater numbers of people than those injured and and killed on Monday. That may be true, but it’s also irrelevant. What affects us isn’t the number of people hurt. We don’t feel the way we do because we think one life is more valuable than another.

The reason why this tragedy stings is because of the randomness and proximity at which this particular moment of violence was inflicted on victims. It’s about vulnerability. We’ve been those spectators. We’ve been those participants. We’ve been every bit as vulnerable as them.

In the immediacy of the attack, no matter the intention or motivation behind it, our feelings aren’t about race, class, economics or geo-political ideologies. The emotions we experience are about space, likelihood and fear. Anyone who has ever been to a sporting event or has involved themselves in a competition has occupied the same area as those who were hurt today. It could so easily have been any of us, and that’s frightening.

It just so happens that today’s strike occurred at a running race. In the aftermath of this, there will be sports writers who use this as an excuse to make grand pronouncements on the state of being a spectator, implying that it will forever be altered by what occurred in Boston. Whether such writing comes from noble motivation or not, it will be a faulty reaction. It could be anywhere and at anytime. Sports are only convenient in so much as they are a place for humans, and potential victims, to gather.

Today’s violence gives credence to the inherent, but normally unsurfaced fear of a population, that control over our public interaction is ultimately non-existent. It’s terrifying to consider that we are all not of one civic mind when we’re out in public together. While some of us wish nothing for others and many of us wish good, there are a few who wish harm, and when they strike we are vulnerable to violence.

Yes, the bombings occurred at a marathon, and as I mentioned there is much in the way of symbolism there. But perhaps the greatest metaphor attached to running a great distance isn’t death, but rather endurance.

If a marathon is a test of human endurance, terror is a test of being human. It causes such a wide range of emotions in those who suffer and those who feel empathy and sympathy for victims. We’re left to feel sickened by the unescable association of species we share with the perpetrator(s) of such an aimless crime. We admire those whose courage prompts them to respond in assistance despite the very real potential for harm to befall them. We feel angry that someone would attack in such a cowardly manner and we feel happy that the damage wasn’t as horrific as it could’ve been. We’re jarred from the illusions that comprise our perspectives.

This all combines inside of us like the chemical reaction bubbling in the cavity of a mock volcano. The ingredients go in, and the recipe comes out with indiscriminate regard for such things as where. Some of us direct this lava-like rage by hastily sharing news stories that may or may not be true. Others express it by heaping scorn on the people spreading false information. Some of us jump to conclusions about what we can learn from horrific events. Others attach a meaning that doesn’t necessarily exist.

Personally, I feel anger. I might think in a more nuanced manner eventually, but for now, I’m angry at the stupidity that supposes inflicting violence upon us will ever have the result that’s desired. Statements, anarchy, change or hatred will not endure. We endure, and we endure with the ideals that make enduring worthwhile.

We endure for the exhausted runners who, after completing a marathon, kept on running to nearby hospitals so that they could donate blood for the victims.

We endure for the emotions experienced by separated loved ones who found each other after smoke and dust had settled.

We endure for the heroism of individuals whose first response was to run toward danger for the sake of assisting others.

We endure just like Pheidippides, the first marathoner, to share the news with our countrymen that we have not been defeated, and that we are victorious over those who would attempt to alter anything for which we endure.

That is a race worth running.

Comments (25)

  1. That was writing about sports and humanity worth of Posnasnki, Parkes. Amazing stuff.

  2. Excellent piece, Dustin. Tremendous.

  3. Wow. This is inspired stuff. Emotional, but reasonable. Excellent work, sir.

  4. Nicely done yet again

  5. Beautiful Parkes.

  6. This was incredibly moving and even-handed and reasonable and emotional and everything that really good writing should be. Incredibly well-written. Congratulations on this piece.

  7. Thank you for this piece.

  8. Your 4th paragraph may have been the greatest paragraph you have ever written. Well done, excellent piece.

  9. One more thing to add, Parkes: I’m a writer myself. I also write about sports. I wish that I was good enough to write something like this. I’m sure a lot of people were helped by reading this, bravo again.

  10. Stunning stuff, Parkes.

    Truly impressive, cathartic piece.

    Thank you.

  11. I’m as big a critic of most of your writings as anyone else Parkes yet I cannot deny this article is excellent. Well done.

  12. I’m sorry for trying to have a rational reaction to this attack. Clearly, the best response to terror are emotional reactions like anger and fear. What could go wrong?
    I really, really don’t understand how pointing out worse acts of terrorism that happen regularly in other parts of the world makes me a misanthrope. I would argue it makes me the opposite of a misanthrope. I’m not saying people should not be disturbed or saddened by the Boston attack, but that the world would be a much better place if people were equally disturbed by terrorism that happen elsewhere in the world.
    Oh, but I see what the author is getting at. The reason this attack is such a tragedy is because the victims were watching a sporting event and we should all be able to relate to attending a sporting event. Of course, it’s all about us. We have to be able to personally relate to something to care about it.

    • Not mention this quote “We don’t feel the way we do because we think one life is more valuable than another.” is not entirely honest. We (the western world) do think one life is more valuable than another and that has to be clear to anyone looking at this horrible event objectively.
      An American or Canadian death is always held up as far more tragic than any foreign life. We don’t react with the same horror when Palestinians are killed, or Somalis, or Pakistanis, or Hondurans or for the 20 who died yesterday in 20 bombings in Iraq.
      We don’t count the civilians (or even differentiate between combatants and noncombatants) our soldiers kill and maim all over the world.
      While I agree this was a tragic and horrific event, we cannot let a tragedy act as cover for the heinous acts we enable and perpetrate all over the world. Violence is never the answer and is completely inexcusable, which makes it even harder to hear statements like this when the reality is that we as Canadians and Americans live in a culture of war and violence and contribute and commit violent acts on a daily basis without ever recognizing the consequences until it directly affects us.

      • “It could so easily have been any of us, and that’s frightening.”
        Yes, it could have easily been one of us if we had traveled to Boston on that particular day and had been in a specific location at a specific point in time. Of course, the odds of that happening are very, very, very, very low. I am somewhat confused as to how a writer who is such a proponent of statistics in baseball would fail to apply similar thinking to the likelihood of being a victim of a terrorist attack.
        I urge people not to live in fear because of this event. Don’t let the terrorists win.
        I also urge people to look back at history. The United States was much more damaged by its reaction to 9/11, than 9/11 itself.

        • I think you missed the point of that particular line. He means more that sporting events are a place where people don’t think to feel threatened and fearful; we’ve all been in situations just like the situation those spectators were in. He’s saying this event sparks especially strong reactions in people because the setting is one in which any one of us could easily place ourselves, in fact most of us have placed ourselves in similar settings many many times. Sure, that doesn’t make it all of a sudden more dangerous to be at a sporting event than it ever was, but again, that isn’t the point. This isn’t about the rational response, this is about what this attack makes us feel.

  13. Excellent piece.

  14. I’m an unsympathetic misanthrope because I tried to view this event within an objective global perspective? The only suitable reaction is a completely emotional one where I am overwhelmed with anger and fear? Fuck off Parkes.

    • Instead of trying to justify your own reaction by dismissing that of others, try looking inward, and ask yourself why your first reaction in light of a tragedy is to compare it to other tragedies. Is it because you’d like to teach those struck by the tragedy a lesson? I think that can wait a little bit until after the immediacy of the tragedy has passed.

      Your feeling the need to express a context that diminishes the impact of painful events for human beings is what makes you a misanthrope.

      • Or maybe we just identify as members of a global village, where each act of violence is felt as sharply as you feel about this attack. How is this diminishing the impact this event is having on others? Calling us names and making assumptions about our motivations just because we’re not reacting the same way you are is not helpful.

      • Actually, my first reaction to the tragedy was that it was horrible.
        You keep misinterpreting my point. My point is not that I think grief for this tragedy isn’t appropriate, but that if grief for this tragedy is appropriate, then grief for similar tragedies would also be appropriate. Yet I don’t recall you writing an article about the Port Said Stadium riot. Why did you feel that tragedy was not important?
        Why is it a bad idea to try to be as rational as possible after a terrorist attack? Why is anger and fear a good response to terror? Why is it such a bad thing to look at a tragedy in context?
        I AM NOT DIMINISHING THIS TRAGEDY. I AM ASKING WHY YOU DIMINISH THE IMPACT OF OTHER TRAGEDIES THAT HAPPEN ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD. Understand?
        You admit your opinion is based on anger and fear. I try and base mine on facts as best I can. Get back to me in a couple days when you feel it is ‘appropriate’ to start thinking in a rational manner. Until then, I’m sure CNN will tell you everything you need to feel.

        • “Keep misinterpreting?” That was his first and only response to you. Hahaha. Your reading comprehension is sorely lacking.

          This seems to be the line that you’re unable to wrap your head around: “There will be no shortage of unsympathetic misanthropes pointing out with a disturbing eagerness that violent incidents from around the world frequently afflict greater numbers of people than those injured and and killed on Monday.”

          If your first response is to tell people upset at what happened that there are worse events, you are what Parkes calls a misanthrope, and what I call an enormous douche bag. You’re the one who took issue with this line. No where does Parkes state that grief for all tragedies is inappropriate as you’d like to spin it. He says that “pointing out” other tragic events with “eagerness” is what’s bothersome.

          Nice try to justify being a prick, though.

          • Eric, that wasn’t my first response so your comment is pointless. Can you read?
            I also realize Parkes doesn’t say ‘any other events are meaningless. Boston is the only tragedy in the history of the world”. My point is that he has given this issue huge coverage, while there are other sporting tragedies where many more people die, and Parkes doesn’t mention these at all. Get it?
            Do you realize that by pointing out that there are worse events, that doesn’t automatically diminish the Boston tragedy? One could argue that by ignoring these other events, and by making a huge deal out of the Boston tragedy, then Parkes is the misanthrope as he thinks tragedies are only tragedies if they happen close to us.
            Well Eric, I tried to be as nice as possible in response to your idiotic assholery. That’s is for now though. Eat shit.

        • “You keep misinterpreting my point.”

          Pot, could I please introduce you to my friend, kettle.

          • I realize Parkes never said that tragedies that happen elsewhere in the world are meaningless. However, he never covers tragedies where a hell of a lot more people die elsewhere in the world while covering the shit out of the Boston tragedy. My response was not towards what he had written, but what he doesn`t write about.

          • Read what you just wrote and think about it. I think you’re kind of embarrassing yourself.

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