What happened in Boston last Monday was something bigger than two bombs exploding. About 26,000 people ran 26 miles at various speeds, almost all of those paces being very quick by most folks’ measures. About a half million spectators, a crowd 20 times larger than the group of runners, watched with amazement and contagious enthusiasm.
At one level, it sounds both silly and foolhardy to run 26 miles. For one thing, that distance almost arbitrarily recalls an apocryphal run about 2,650 years ago by a Greek man named Pheidippides, from a battlefield at Marathon, Greece, to the big city of Athens about 26 miles away. Pheidippides was a professional messenger, sent to bring news that Greeks had won a battle at Marathon against Persia, headquartered in today’s Iran.
It’s odd that we’d replicate Pheidippides’ run, not only because it was rather remote from modern life, but also because Pheidippides apparently died after he finished.
Last Monday, not one of Boston’s 26,000 runners died. Even the 78-year-old guy seen on video getting knocked over by one of the blasts, Bill Iffrig of Lake Stevens, Wash., ended up getting up and finishing.
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All runners ran their own quite personal races, exploring their own limitations. Though they all got to Boston in different ways, there were some common elements. Hard work. Determination. Some luck (ask Iffrig about that). Plenty of support.
While most runners probably appreciated the race’s glorious tradition and the sheer spectacle of it all, they had other reasons for being there too. Better health, for instance, which is something even fancy insurance plans can’t assure.
For most Boston runners, though, running Boston is most deeply about how you choose to live during the limited time God has given you, with whatever body God has graced you with.
Some people try hard to prove what little they can do in life, so that others can then take care of their needs and wants. For marathon runners, it’s pretty much the opposite. It’s a way to explore what mostly ordinary folks can achieve.
Though the marathon is almost too punishing even for elite athletes, most runners at Boston weren’t complaining about their non-elite bodies. They were excited to see what they could manage anyway.
As of this writing Friday morning, we believe that the Tsarnaev brothers from Chechnya killed three people, caused amputations for at least nine others, injured more, then executed an officer for emphasis. The Tsarnaevs were terrorists, of course -- though “true angels” according to their father living in Russia.
Terrorists, including Islamofascists like the Tsarnaevs, are sort of like big babies throwing tantrums. They seem to imagine that they could never get us to hear whatever they might have had to say. They imagine that they can’t achieve much of anything themselves -- short of killing and intimidating us into submission, or making wildly theatrical non-points.
We get toddlers’ tantrums, having once been toddlers ourselves. But we don’t get adults of any faith claiming the right to terrorize. Terrorism challenges faith. True faiths beat terrorism.
As a parent of several kids, I’ve occasionally pondered how to help toddlers grow beyond tantrums. The best answer I’ve found is to teach the toddler to communicate in ways that will invite the rest of us to listen.
Of course, we can communicate some things not only with words, but with acts, including bombing. Fortunately, bombing is usually a terrible way to get people to listen. All it did in Boston was to express a defeatist nihilism, and invite our resolve for justice.
Some acts can talk better than raw bombing. Someday, somebody who last Monday got a leg blown off may run Boston’s marathon, obviously with less than a whole leg, but still somehow covering 26 miles. What a statement that would be.
The Tsarnaevs invited you into their weird world of death and despair. Boston’s marathon, on the other hand, invites you to delight in God’s gifts, test your limits, cheer on the aspiring, and show your appreciation for life itself.
How cool. How unchanged.
With his wife Kerry, David Oedel has run the Boston Marathon three times.