When several of my running buddies were racing the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day, I was holed up in my office following and writing about a breaking local story — a car chase through Dallas. Earlier in the day I had been curt to Lauren, our marketing director, who wanted to discuss a dozen things for which I didn’t have time. I told her about my pressing deadlines and asked her to shut my door on her way out (code for don’t come back; I don’t have time). A little after lunch Lauren knocked and peeked inside my door. “I know you are busy. But there was a bomb at the Boston marathon. Did you know? I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure you knew.”
What was she saying. A bomb scare, probably. A bomb threat, I thought. Probably.
O my god. Thank you, Lauren, for telling me. And I meant it.
I open Facebook. I see one of my running friends James and his wife Jenny. They are smiling and he is wearing the yellow lanyard, a finisher medal resting on his chest. Maybe it’s not real. They look fine.
I go to my running group’s page.
Andre: News just said explosions at Boston marathon. Conflicting reports of what is going on. Is everyone ok??
Meredith: Kristi and Haakon are ok. Waiting to hear from the others.
Meredith: Brally is ok.
Julie: Spareribs LaMothe hasn’t crossed the finish yet … looks like the finish line is shut down.
Meredith: Ann Marie is ok.
Stephanie: Little brent and his mom are ok
Kevin: Steve is fine. Just texted.
This goes on for hours.
At a desk, computer, I know more about what is going on there than those at the marathon know. One friend messages that he heard there was a bomb. But he’s not sure. He hopes it’s just a rumor.
I already know it was. I saw some of the first photos posted online. Some of those photos have been removed now. Blood. Flesh. Tears. Limbs detached from bodies. Hell.
I sat mesmerized in front of the television most of that night. For years, any mention of the Boston Marathon or really any marathon had sent a surge of excitement through me. That night I head the word a hundred times and each churned my stomach.
Our friends who finished the race — some of whom had stellar, mind-blowing performances, didn’t even talk about such things for days, weeks. Instead they talked about the bizarre sight of runners sprinting away from the finish line. For a while, the things that normally are important didn’t matter.
By the next day the numbness turned to mobilization — our running club, White Rock Running Co-op (led by Chris Stratton), immediately raised $1,500 to send to the One Fund, and all the groups in Dallas joined together for moral support.
Runners around the world did the same.
I sat in my car the the next day and listened to the interfaith prayer service attended by President Obama. I don’t go to church and I do not subscribe to a religion. But like many, when plunged into despair or when I can’t make sense of things, I look to the supernatural. Call it God, or a higher power or the collective consciousness of good or whatever — the only way to treat senseless evil is with a power that, while illogical, I can feel. And then I know — as surely as I know there is misery —that there is good and that it is stronger.
Though our president, a great orator, addressed the crowds, the words that really touched me — the ones that alleviated that sinking feeling — came from a minister named Nancy S. Taylor.
It was a relatively short prayer and I thankfully found the transcript on CNN.com:
Located at the finish line of the Boston marathon, Old South Church in Boston has developed over the years a ministry to marathoners. And I’m here to tell you that they are a special – very special – breed. They are built of sturdy stuff.
As we do every year on Marathon Sunday, the day before the marathon, we invite the athletes to worship. And they come in the hundreds. And during the service, we ask them to stand. And we raise a forest of arms in blessing over them. And in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we supercharge them, saying “may you run and not grow weary, may you walk and not faint.”
This year in the midst of it all, in the midst of a joy-filled, peace- filled, international competition unlike any other – explosions, chaos, terror.
And from the church’s tower, this is what I saw that day. I saw people run toward, not away from, toward the explosions. Toward the chaos. The mayhem. Toward the danger. Making of their own bodies sacraments of mercy.
In the minutes and hours that followed I saw with my own eyes good Samaritans taking off their coats and their shirts and wrapping them around athletes who were shivering, quaking with cold and whose limbs were stiffening. Good Samaritans who fed, clothed and sheltered runners and families, assisted families, shared their cell phones, opened homes and stores, and not least, guided strangers through Boston’s cow paths.
Today, from our tower overlooking the finish line, we continue to fly our three marathon banners. Today we fly them first in memory of those whose lives were taken that day. And second, we fly them with prayers for those who were harmed and those who grieve, for there is still much, much pain in the world today. And we are very far from being healed.
And we fly them also in thanksgiving for first responders who made of their own bodies sacraments of blessing.
Here’s what I know today. We are shaken, but we are not forsaken. Another’s hate will not make of us haters. Another’s cruelty will only redouble our mercy. Amen.