I am a runner.
I was born a runner: I was the kid at recess sprinting back and forth on the field for the sheer joy of it. (Sometimes, I pretended to be a horse and, post-Jurassic Park, a velociraptor. I was not the most popular child.)
I was raised a runner: Mom took me to the trails behind her gym every week, and Dad spent countless hours timing splits while I tried to lower my mile time.
And, many years after leaving competition behind, if you ask me for a few words that describe myself, “runner” always comes first. That’s why, every year that I lived in Boston, Patriots Day found me strapping on my running shoes and jogging out to the nearest point on the Marathon race course. There I’d sit – or, as my body temperature dropped, jog in place – long after the elite runners passed, cheering at random for those who passed by, feeling my legs twitch with a special kind of envy. “Maybe next year I’ll qualify.” And, year after year, excuse after excuse, remembering the sights and sounds and smells, repeating “Maybe next year.”
This year was not my year.
A small, ashamed voice (which I’ve tried to ignore all week while continually refreshing The Boston Globe’s Twitter feed) is grateful. Grateful for blistering new shoes in January, laziness in May, even a quad tear in August. Grateful that I spent Marathon Monday a continent away from two shrapnel-packed pressure cookers and the carnage they would inflict.
The rest of me is heartbroken. And, for the first time in many years, there’s a place in the pit of my stomach that is filled with cold, unwavering fury. I know it will be a long time before I can forgive.
The Boston Marathon Bombing hit hard because it hit things that are sacred. It destroyed human life. It attacked human achievement in (perhaps only a runner would say this) one of its purest forms. It left permanent scars of varying severity on all who bore witness, who know the city, who love the race. It shook us.
That’s the thing about all that we find sacred. The sacred has, almost by definition, the power to uplift us, to move us, to challenge us. But its loss has an equal power: that of devastation.
Monday’s attack was also sudden. Dramatic. Shocking. The images streaming through televisions, computers, and phones were vivid. It was impossible not to be shaken.
Such events throw our lives into sharp relief. They give us perspective on our own struggles, and our individual achievements. The stories of the victims fill us with sadness, but the stories of the heroes fill us with hope. When we turn away from the news and, as we must, back to the tasks at hand, we are filled with new resolve. We move forward, with a new appreciation for life.
Let some of that appreciation include a greater awareness of all that is sacred to us.
The sacred is also the deeply personal. In the strictest sense, it is the holy and the divine. For many, it is also the unconditional love of friends and family. For some, it is fundamental rights and freedoms, like those enshrined in this country’s law. For others, it is the stillness of nightfall in the High Sierra, or the rhythm of the sea hundreds of miles from land.
It is easy to believe that what we hold sacred is unshakeable, unassailable. So often, we think of these sacred things only when they are threatened or, worse, lost to us. And not all losses happen with a bang, as in Boston. Some of them are gradual, insidious. They erode in parts, far away, with little acknowledgement and less media coverage. Sometimes, we do not even notice the sacred, slipping slowly away.
Let us, then, be vigilant. Let us pray our prayers and run our races. Let us say “I love you” and hike in wild places. Let us know the sacred today so that we can protect it, rescue it, and treasure it tomorrow.
Donations to help Boston victims and their families can be made at http://onefundboston.org. Send comments to Holly at hollyvm “at” stanford “dot” edu.