I should be in Chicago right now, but after the events of this week there’s no place I’d rather be than Boston. Even yesterday, when my city was under lockdown and I was glued to the TV watching the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I thought to myself that the last thing I wanted to do was leave. If this ship is going down, I’d rather stay with the ship. But this is Boston, a city that runs 26.2 miles on our day off for fun and then two more miles to donate blood in the wake of a deadly bombing, a city that cancels Friday to hunt down the man who messed with us. This ship ain’t going down.
|Kenmore Square, empty during the lockdown|
Rushes of emotion have been especially common for me lately, in the days before the marathon when I felt both intimidated and excited by how epic this race is, and afterward when I’ve been reflecting on the beautiful series of events leading up to the day’s horrific conclusion.
The strongest reaction I had was anger. But it was anger driven by love of my city, my marathon, and above all my people, including my teammates and our supporters and my wider community of runners and their loved ones. The city of Boston, the marathon, the charity runner program, and my Running for Rare Diseases team are some of the few things I’ve looked at and said, “This is good. This is beautiful.” I was deeply angry that someone would try to destroy so much goodness.
|Moment of beauty & triumph at the Boston Marathon finish|
Many of us began imagining nightmare scenarios during our vulnerable post-marathon exhaustion. On Monday, after I’d crossed the finish line but before the bombs went off, I remember thinking that I don’t really like myself immediately after I complete a long run. I love how I feel in the final miles of a long run; when everything has been stripped away, I often find courage, clarity of thought, joy, and a spirit turned toward God that I rarely experience in any other times of my life. But once I complete my run, I let my guard down and weakness takes over. Sometimes I just want to collapse on the ground and cry.
I heard an explosion shortly after picking up the bag I’d checked in Hopkinton that had been bussed to the finish line. Fireworks, I assumed. I was only three blocks away but had no idea what was going on. Even after being told to evacuate the Arlington T station and hearing the fear and urgency in the MBTA officials’ voices, I still had no idea. It wasn’t until I’d hobbled all the way to Park Street station that I heard an official say, “There were bombs at the finish line.”
Bombs. At the finish line.
I took out my phone immediately to start trying to locate the others I knew who were at the race and to let my friends and family know I was safe. No calls would go through; no missed calls showed up in my phone log; text messages came and went in batches and had to be resent time after time. And faces flashed into my mind. Faces of people I loved, faces of people I prayed were all right.
|2013 Boston Marathon Team|
You don’t mess with the people I love, I kept thinking throughout the night. You don’t mess with an event as meaningful to me as the Boston Marathon. And you don’t mess with Boston, my beloved city.
But in the midst of all the darkness and anger, I also kept waking up with a warm feeling of being overwhelmed by the love I felt throughout the day. Scenes from the day raced through my mind and stirred something within me, something the terrorists had tried to destroy by bombing the race but which was shining even more clearly because of it.
|In heaven at mile 14|
My running team was jubilantly leaving our pre-race breakfast and about to get on the bus that would take us to Hopkinton. “Hey I’m worried about you,” said Phil, our unofficial team captain who knows my running personality better than anyone. “Take it easy until you reach the top of Heartbreak Hill. If you feel like you’re holding yourself back for the first 20 miles, you’ll have a great race.”
I was at the top of the stairs, on the second floor of my house, when one of my roommates got home. “Is she here?” she asked the others and came bounding up the stairs to give me a fierce “I’m so glad you’re not dead” hug.
I texted my friend Sarah from Minnesota while sitting on the Boston Common. “I can’t remember the last time I was that scared,” she wrote. Since my parents don’t have texting and no calls were going through, she called them to let them know I was all right, and she posted on my Facebook for anyone who was checking there.
|"I'm dying!" at mile 24|
I was at mile 6, trotting along and grinning at the crazy crowds. “You are not almost there!” read one of the spectators’ signs. “No I’m not,” I thought. “And that’s awesome because I never want this marathon to end.”
I was in Hopkinton and my colleague and teammate Kai read a note from one of our company’s senior leaders. “I never ran Boston,” he wrote, “and it’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. I hope you all can enjoy every moment, every step.”
I was shivering in the Boston Common, trying to make my text messages go through. “How are you getting home?” texted my friend Courtney. “I don’t know,” I wrote back. Until I can get these texts through and find out everyone’s okay, I don’t really care, I wanted to add. “I can pick you up and drive you home.”
Scenes of Boston – my beloved city, my home – filled my mind as well.
Boston greeted me with a torrential rain storm. I’d driven halfway across the country with my friend Ann in a rented SUV, and this is how I was welcomed? (Other things that happened in my first few days here: getting locked out of my apartment with a key that didn’t work, trying to correct a wrong turn by driving around the block and ending up lost for 45 minutes, realizing that unlike dorm rooms apartments do not come equipped with toilet paper or shower curtains, having an IKEA adventure that went horribly wrong.) Boston is a city you have to earn the right to call home.
|Boston skyline & Longfellow Bridge|
|Boston Public Library courtyard|
|Raven Used Books in Harvard Square|
There was the period in my life when I went to slam poetry every week at the Lizard Lounge, and I wrote articles about Patricia Smith and the National Poetry Slam team. Before I wrote those articles, I’d been afraid I could never be a real writer.
Emerson College. Park Street Church. Genzyme. These are the places where I grew wings, where I learned how to do things that scare me, where I started to become the person I was always meant to be.
The first time I said, “I’m going home” when I flew from Minnesota back to Boston.
My first run around the Charles River. My first 5K race. My first run after learning some awful Minnesota family news, feeling grateful to have this gruff city to shelter me.
Boston is the city that taught me how to run. Boston is the city that taught me how to be brave even when I’m afraid. Boston is the city that taught me how to fly.
|Map of important locations in manhunt|
I don’t like being angry when I don’t have a clear direction to funnel my passion into. But I hate being afraid even more. After an entire day in the house, my fear had faded and I was back to asking the question I’d been asking ever since the marathon: What can I do?
The answer was the same. I will not be afraid. I will not act on my anger in a destructive way. I will write. I will run. I will keep loving the people in my life and I will keep living my life in my city.
|Memorial on Boylston Street|
As I’ve done ever since Monday, I will wear my Boston Marathon jacket as a symbol that beauty, hope, victory, and love cannot be destroyed.
When I first wore it after the tragedy, I hoped people didn’t think I was trying to get attention. The last thing I wanted was to be treated like I was special because of these horrific events. But then I realized: This is Boston. As with all my accomplishments, running a marathon isn’t going to impress anyone. This city will run me over in the crosswalk, marathon jacket or no marathon jacket. Its citizens will watch me sprint to catch the T and just smirk at me, “Good thing you’ve done all that training.”
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.