[Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on Sea Salt, the blog of our friend Dianna Calareso. It was too apt and affecting not to share here.]
Yesterday I watched in horror as the TV screen at our office showed live footage of the explosions at the Boston Marathon. I texted my cousin, who was running, and then I just sat in disbelief. Even though I was two miles away, safe in my office, and would return safely home (thanks to a friend giving me a ride so I could avoid the trains), it felt so close. My beautiful city stained with blood. The beautiful tradition of the race forever haunted. A beautiful day marked by terror.
I went home and cried into Kevin’s arms. And then we prayed for the families of the victims, for the city of Boston, for the first responders…and for the people who would no longer stand, walk, or run on their own two legs. Like many people, I was horrified to hear stories and see graphic images of people who had lost limbs in the explosion. But I couldn’t help thinking about what would happen next for them. For those that survive their injuries, they’ll stay in the hospital to recover from shock, pain, and trauma. Then…they’ll be disabled. They’ll need prosthetics. They’ll need to learn how to walk with crutches, how to maneuver wheelchairs. They’ll need to figure out how to answer questions, how to deal with people staring, how to accept help they don’t want.
Many people in my life sent me emails and text messages to make sure Kevin and I were ok. Some asked if I had run the marathon or if I had been there watching. I wasn’t, but I could have been. Some asked if my office was nearby. It’s not, but it could have been.
Technically, what happens in a tragedy could happen to anybody. But this one chilled me to the core. What happened to those people could have happened to me for so many reasons. The office where I used to work is at the finish line on Boylston Street. For many years in a row I watched the marathon, tracking my cousin’s progress with my family. And since I ran the marathon in 2007 I’ve talked on and off about doing it again.
I’m not suggesting at all that I was really close to being hurt, or that I’ve experienced anything like what those people and families are going through. I’m simply saying it hit close to home: Copley Square, where I spent countless hours walking to and from work, getting lunch with Kevin when we first met, walking up Boylston to Fenway Park when I had tickets to a game. I know that part of Boston like the back of my hand; seeing bloodstains on that street was like seeing them on the street where I live.
As painful as it was to see Copley Square in such chaos, it was also heartbreaking to see the finish line of the marathon become a place of terror. I’m not an expert in marathons, but I know a thing or two about finish lines. They. Are. Amazing. In addition to two marathons, I’ve also completed a half-marathon, two triathlons, an 80-mile bike ride, a 60-mile walk, and many road races ranging from 3-7 miles. And every finish line was special. Sometimes because it meant the grueling race was over. Other times because it meant I’d made good on all the donations I’d collected for the race. But most of the time, the finish line was special because it meant I had done it. I was strong. Powerful. Alive. The finish line is where you throw up your hands and lift your face to the sky. Where you find your friends and families to cover them in sweaty hugs and pose for photos on shaky, tired legs. The finish line is where you become Someone Who Really Did It. And it’s where you become fully aware of every part of your body. Every part that’s sweaty, salty, tired, shaky, and sore. Nothing feels better.
I know people who are much better athletes than I am. They run the Boston marathon every year. They’ve completed multiple Ironman triathlons. They’re always in the middle of training for something. And as much as I want to be one of those people, I’ve never been able to commit that consistently to training. I decide that my legs need a break. That I need my weekends back. That I don’t want to join a gym just so I can run in the winter. That it’s enough to say I ran two marathons, which is two more than most people will ever do.
But this morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about that feeling at the finish line. I was doing my morning yoga routine, a time I usually relish for the quiet, peace, and chance to think about nothing. But today, I thought about my legs. With every downward dog, I appreciated the pull of my hamstrings as I lifted the pose higher. In half-moon I savored the ability to balance on one leg while the other stretched behind me. In exalted warrior I thanked God that I could feel the bend in my knee, the press of my toes on the mat, the flex of my ankle.
My muscles were awake, alive, and I felt connected to my body in a way I haven’t felt since my last finish line (at a triathlon in September). And while I’ve always found it easy to complain about my legs, today I find myself unable to be anything but thankful. I’ve never felt so blessed to be able to run, to stretch, to stand. My legs are strong. They’re powerful. They’re mine.
For the victims who are lying in hospital beds trying desperately to feel a limb that isn’t there, I wish greater feeling somewhere else. Heightened sensitivity to what they see, hear, or taste. Renewed passion for art, music, food, or writing. Peace through the nightmares and the phantom limbs and the anger and shame ahead of them. Forgiveness for people who will stare, ask dumb questions, and awkwardly look away. Desire and courage to pursue athletic events in racing wheelchairs or on prosthetic legs. Strength for another day.
Yesterday it could’ve been me, but it wasn’t. So tonight, I’m going for a run. And I’ll be thankful for every step.