If you know me, you know that I love the Boston Marathon. I ran it in 2009. I cheer myself hoarse and crazy as a spectator. I prepare athletes for race day and help them recover afterward with yoga. I’ve scoped many favorite spots to watch over the years: the finish line when it was blistering hot in 2004, Coolidge Corner as a 20-something living in nearby Allston, Kenmore Square where I swelled with pride when my absurdly fast and dedicated roommate at the time ran by (the noise is deafening there, especially when the Red Sox game lets out). When I worked at Boston magazine, I would dart up Mass Ave. from my office, to watch at the intersection of Commonwealth. I loved it there because the crowd wasn’t too thick, and I’d grown to recognize the kindly police officer on duty over the years. Bless him for looking the other way as I scaled a lamp post to cheer for friends with one– jubilant or near delirious– mile to go. Yesterday, this was the precise location where thousands of runners were halted, as reports surfaced of two bombs detonated in quick succession at the finish line, killing at least two people, injuring dozens, and turning the scene of Boston’s high athletic holiday into something resembling a war zone of blood and chaos.
I was at mile 20 of the course, known as Heartbreak Hill, on a day that broke my city’s collective heart.
One moment I was cheering runners, including the American Red Cross marathon team, along with its coach Dan Fitzgerald. The next, I was too somberly aware of how important its work is. There was a tragic and twisted irony in cheering Red Cross chief executive, Jarrett Barrios, who was having a long, hard race at mile 20, in one moment, and in the next, frantically calculating that he likely finished during the blasts. He was OK, stopped at mile 25.8, near my favorite lamp post.
The concern from family, friends, and fans of OG (many of whom I’ve never met) via calls, texts, tweets, Facebook, and Instagram was immediate and unforgettable. My dad, the emotional first responder called; he never panics. My brother, who factored that I may have jumped into the race for the last 6-miles with a friend, as he did for me in 2009… My mom, who already knew I was OK but was in tears at the thought that it could have been me running, or her spectating, or anyone…
And, that is the saddest, most bottomed out feeling. It may not be me among those who lost their lives or limbs or my loved ones (you realize you love them all, really, on days like this), but it’s someone’s someone. It always is. It’s a hollowed out feeling that on the other side of moments when a B.A.A. volunteer directing runners across the finish is saying, “You’re all winners.” There are times of profound darkness, seconds later, when all of us lose.
Which leads us to the question we’re all asking: what are we to do next? As Bostonians, those all over the world standing in support of us, as yogis, as athletes who live for finish lines and never expect to die on one, and as citizens of the world. We need to do something right now. What is it?
We can pray.
We may not be doctors, but we can pray for doctors and medical staff in area hospitals. May they have all the resources they need, in body, mind, and spirit, to do their lifesaving work. We may not be therapists, but we can pray for those who witnessed the carnage first-hand. A close friend crossed the finish moments before the blasts; her two small children were in the stands watching. They are unharmed but terrified. They do not want their mom to run another marathon. We can pray for government and law enforcement officials seeking answers and future safeguards. We can pray for each and every person whose life brushed too painfully close to yesterday’s traumatic events. Our collective heart can choose, right now, to eradicate harm and violence of any kind, in thoughts, words, and deeds, and as often as humanly possible choose love over fear and peace over hatred. This is the only way to change anything.
Prayers don’t need to be articulate or dogmatic. Maybe you’re not much for God, but the way I look at prayer: it never hurts. It’s your heart speaking a truth, for good. If the concept of prayer doesn’t speak to you, you can mediate, which is simply the act of sitting in the presence of our own mind with the conscious intention to cultivate peace for yourself and others.
If you can’t wrap your brain around that right now, which is entirely OK, you can do something of service for someone. It doesn’t matter whom or how big. Just pick a someone. Give them light and love. Give a smile, a handwritten card, or a meal because they need one. Give blood. Give time and energy to someone troubled who needs it to feel more whole. When your work is done, the card mailed, the vial full, the sandwich devoured, do it again. Do it bigger. Or, do it more humbly. Because that’s the thing about peace and healing: there’s no finish line. It is our daily work. It’s what we do next and always.