I thought about the marathon while I was running this morning. As I did my slow mile and a half, I remembered the sound of the crowd outside my window cheering for runners from morning until mid-afternoon. The local news offering stories about the runners, interviews with winners, footage of the race. The loud Boston College students at mile 21 with their bright poster-board signs of encouragement, trying to out-cheer another school a bit further out. The infectious excitement and the thrill of watching the elite, and the less elite, and the costumed runners come by. The undergrads who were outrageously drunk by lunchtime, and whose revelry would continue well into the night. Spur was never a fan of the noise, but I loved it. It’s one of the unreplicable Boston experiences. I thought about my friends–two of them–who would be running today. I checked the weather conditions in Boston and was relieved to see that it would be a much nicer day for a run than the unseasonable heat last year that rendered many people unable to finish. I missed Boston.
The news is shocking. Explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. Two deaths, dozens injured. Not enough information on any news source, and surely not enough information on the ground either. No one claiming responsibility. Waiting tensely for status updates on Facebook to tell me that my friends who live there are all okay, especially those who ran, and feeling incrementally relieved with each check-in. Wishing I was still there (I wouldn’t have been near the finish, since my place was right on the route at mile 22), not that it would make any difference. I wouldn’t know more or be able to do anything, but there’s something about the solidarity of mourning with a community. I still feel a part of the Boston community; I still feel this tragedy the way I would if I lived there. But here, a thousand miles away, people will mourn without ownership. Boston is not theirs. Copley Square is not personal. This event is not immediate. I feel a little bit displaced, outside, alone.
And relieved, too, that it wasn’t worse. Although it’s not a relief that brings comfort.
And somehow, I’m supposed to collect my shot-scattered thoughts and continue working on a paper. I tend to lose my appetite for academic work in moments like this. It’s hard to see how an essay on Adorno and The God of Small Things can possibly be relevant in a world where someone sets off explosions in a crowd of strangers.
Except that, as I sit here haunted by unarticulated questions that revolve around why would someone, and how do we live in a world that erupts so often in sorrow, in which this event is relatively minor, in which worse things happen, I am somehow comforted to remember that these are the questions that literature and philosophy, including the texts I’m currently working with, ask. The questions that can’t be quantified in numbers or theorems, only expressed in words and in stories. It’s not that there are necessarily solid answers there, though I often find that there are glimpses of answers, or fragments of them. But it softens the blows of life a little to know, to feel deeply that we don’t struggle alone and we question and keen in chorus with other voices.
And I don’t have any answers either, but I’ll leave you with this, from The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry:
“The trouble with the world,” says Harcourt . . . “is we’re not long enough in it, that this famous life of humans is brief and lasts only the flick of a London sparrow’s wing, and still and all, brother McNulty, we’re not suited to it, and even this short scatter of days lies heavy in our hands.” At this he examines his own hands as if he might see time itself lying there, heavily. “Oh, my brother, we are not masters of this life as it turns out.”
Today I pray to the God who knows when a single sparrow falls from the sky for comfort and healing and a peace that passes understanding for the many victims of this tragedy.