Yesterday’s forecast for Boston was a perfect sunny day for its famous marathon. Thousands of runners would cover 26.2 miles through the historic city before crossing the finish line, cheered on by their supporters. Sure, to place in the top three is truly a feat. But to actually cross the finish line, whether first or last, is the true accomplishment in a marathon. For thousands, it is a race unfinished. The chaos from yesterday’s bombings along the finish line of Boston’s marathon interrupted the remainder of the race. In just a few seconds, runners suddenly were more concerned with their own safety and aiding others than focusing on their stride, endurance, and split time.
Some have placed this event as the third domestic tragedy in a year following those in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut. Others have placed it as the third of three tragic sporting events (the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the bombing from the 1996 Olympics being the other two).
I remember the 1996 bombing in Atlanta. I remember the raw emotions I felt. For the first time, I realized that not even the Olympic Games were immune to the violence and hatred that plagues our world. To see a sporting event that holds athleticism, fellowship, and peace at its core marred by hate-fueled violence was disturbing. Some of my innocence was lost. I think it was lost for many.
More innocence was lost on September 11, 2001; on July 21, 2005; and our sense of security and remaining naiveté continues to erode with each additional, senseless tragedy. The countless shootings in the United States resulted from the mentally ill having easy access to extremely deadly firearms. The tragedies of Munich, Atlanta, and now Boston were not the result of lunacy. They were pre-planned, calculated acts of terror, fueled by a level of hatred that is difficult to comprehend. In fact, it is difficult to comprehend what kind of human being can purposefully plan an attack that sabotages innocent civilians gathered together for a festive occasion.
As a sports fan, as a compassionate human being, I am angry. Stupefied. Saddened. Along with thousands I also ask the same question: Why?
Reflecting on yesterday’s tragedy, I find myself mulling over a quote from Olympian Mark Spitz. Spitz, who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Games, was later quoted as saying, “The memories of the Munich games for me are of triumph and tragedy.” So too will the 2013 Boston Marathon be for many of its runners and spectators. For many, there is tragedy in the loss of life and of life-threatening injuries. While I grieve for those killed and pray for the healing of those injured, I also recognize the tragedy of more innocence lost and an eroding sense of security.
Just as in 1972 and 1996, there is also triumph. Webster’s Dictionary defines triumph as “the joy or exultation of victory or success,” “a victory or conquest by or as if by military force,” or “a notable success.” Although the race was not finished by all, there were two runners who crossed the finish line with the best time, and their successes are worth noting: Men’s winner Lelisa Desisa Benti of Ethiopia and women’s winner Rita Jeptoo of Kenya. They were joyful and victorious, having conquered the obstacles of a marathon.
I firmly believe that we can never defeat hatred or fanaticism. As we put one fire out, another two begin from its ashes, and the vicious cycle continues. In the most literal sense, we cannot eradicate all evil. Yet we can refuse to let it squash our spirit, our love of sport, our compassion for human life. Just like the athlete who falls down and gets back up again, so must we. Again and Again.
Faster, Higher, Stronger.