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.