Boston, sorrow and leisure

Thomas McDermott won the first Boston Marathon, back in 1897. He suffered from cramps and blisters most of the way and by the end could peel some of the skin off the soles of his feet. He vowed to never run a marathon again but by the next year was back in Boston, finishing a  minute faster. I suspect he must have experienced the same tortuous emotions, the grueling pain that is in fact pleasure of the highest so many marathon runners have experienced at Boston for over a century and hoped to again on Monday.

A little after 3 p.m. I heard the same tragic news we all did. I saw the Vine clip and then started reading Twitter, the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal. I didn’t feel like working anymore and not running later this evening, either. I ended up falling asleep aside my desk for a while, popping back awake later, seeing the injury toll rise higher and the details of those injuries grow even more gruesome. My thoughts and my prayers go out for the three who have reportedly died, the many who have been injured and all their families.

This fall I had a conversation with another Penn State writer while we were waiting for our plane at the Indianapolis airport. It was just before the election and we got to talking about politics and then 9/11 and terrorism in general. We agreed that an act of violence that could really screw with our country’s psyche was one that would interfere with our leisure. Here in America our pastimes are really what count. No matter how much I like my job, I like my weekends, my family and my friends one-thousand times more. Diversions are everything. Monday’s bombing cut directly through leisure. The Boston Marathon is a pure spectator event enjoyed by thousands each year, and running and racing are undertaken for fun and fitness by millions. What if this tragedy changes the way we feel at races, games or parades?

The writer Dave Zirin posted a blog about Kathy Switzer this afternoon, recounting a famous quote in which she said, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” There’s another story about Switzer that is relevant to share. Switzer, of course, is extremely well known as the first female runner to officially finish the Boston Marathon (Roberta Gibb had snuck into the race a few years earlier). She took up running when she was a shy teenager who didn’t know exactly how to fit in. In her autobiography Marathon Woman, she explained that running injected her with confidence, and she felt like a Roman goddess. She called it magic. Running made her feel like she was invincible.

For a long time, she didn’t tell anyone else about running. She wanted the sport and the magic to be her secret. Then she’d remember back to something her father told her: the best way to show gratitude for a gift is to pass it along to someone else.

So today I think of that advice. Even in the scariest circumstances, our loves, our diversions – they’ll always be worth sharing and certainly never worth stopping.

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