I started running about four years ago to lose weight. At first I hated it. My lungs burned and my head hurt and every footstep felt like sledge hammers pounding on my calves. I persisted out of stubbornness. I’d bought a good pair of shoes and I didn’t want to waste them.
A few months later, everything still hurt, but not as often and not as long. I grew to tolerate running and, eventually, to love it. The solitude of the open road spoke to me, giving me a place to sort out my thoughts, to plan my day, or just unwind.
When solitude grew too, well, solitary, I started running races — 5Ks, 10Ks, even a half-marathon. I was never going to be the fastest runner — not overall, not even in my age group — but that didn’t matter. Camaraderie was a new experience. Imagine me, shunner of everything athletic, bonding with other athletes, encouraging and being encouraged, crossing the finish line with a feeling of euphoria while family and friends looked on.
Crossing the finish line. That’s one of the things I pondered after I learned of Monday’s bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon — that the rat bastards responsible had corrupted yet another place that should be associated with victory and joy.
First, terrorists stripped Americans of our sense of security on 9/11. Since then, it’s been one reduction after another. Shooters in schools, in malls, in airports, in churches. Some with guns, some with bombs, one crazy in Texas last week with a knife. And now the Boston Marathon, probably the Super Bowl of races, one that runners dream of qualifying for, if not competing in. At least three dead, more than 100 injured.
Where are we safe anymore?
The answer, of course, is everywhere and nowhere. Everywhere because, despite the horror and tragedy, the
loss of life and the injuries, most places are perfectly safe, at least from the kind of homicidal cruelty that took place Monday, because the bad guys still are few and far between.
Nowhere because it’s impossible for anybody — police, volunteers, government officials, the courts — to protect us 100 percent of the time. We wouldn’t want to live in a world where they did. A poster by comicbook master Frank Miller shows a young woman with her eyes, ears and nose covered by Band-Aids. A pair of hands reaches toward her mouth to place another Band-Aid there.
“Just one more and you’ll be safe,” the caption reads.
The post-Boston 2013 world is one we know too well already. Races will now begin with totally appropriate moments of silence for lives lost in Boston, another painful reminder of innocence lost.
Runners will cross finish lines and remember images of another finish line, one choked in smoke and raining blood and body parts. They will wear T-shirts and ribbons in colors yet unchosen to mark lives senselessly lost.
Another moment of joy will be tainted by the unfathomable actions of a person or people who consider decency to be just a word and for whom life is cheap. And yet we soldier on. Americans still fly, despite 9/11. We still send our kids to school, despite Columbine, Texas A&M, Sandy Hook and too many others. We still go to the movies, despite Aurora.
And now we will still run, despite Boston. We will persist out of stubbornness, to lose the weight of the world, despite the burning in our lungs and the pain in our hearts. Because we can’t stop congregating. We can’t close down the world and huddle in our houses, and we can’t teach our kids to do that either. Just one more and you’ll be safe.
We’ve got to lace up and keep running.
But are we running toward the future or away from the past? Sadly, that answer isn’t as clear.
By Chris Schillig
Chris Schillig is an English teacher in Alliance, Ohio. Follow him @cschillig on Twitter.