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On Terror, Running, And Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

boston marathonI’ve been depleted since I heard the news about the bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier today. Just done. I had to take a 20 minute nap just to summon the energy I needed to do laundry.

Again? In the US?

Or as my friend Jessie Baade put it, “How many times in one lifetime do we have to tell our friends looking from the outside that we were not in the path of another bomb explosion?”

Jessie lives in Boston. I have a good number of friends there. The comedy community in Boston is tight-knit and kick-ass and every once in a while they allow a few of us New Yorkers to come up and be a part of their fun. Many of my New York friends have histories in Boston. It’s one of the most memorable places you can visit in America – for its history and its people – and the Boston Marathon is maybe the most prestigious 26.2 in the world.

I don’t know much about running, but I do know a thing or two about cheering people on. (Well before I was a mother, I was out every night in bars, cheering my fellow comedians on with my hearty laugh.) The first time I went to the New York City Marathon I had no idea that it was possible to be so moved by watching people run. (Note: this is the entire conceit behind The Biggest Loser. Can the fat people run? They can! OH MY GOD IT’S A MIRACLE! That fat guy is running!!!)

But that’s how marathons make you feel, like running is a miracle. Especially the runners at the end of the marathon. The people running not for sport but to prove that they can. To raise money for charity. To let people know that their wheelchair hasn’t stopped them. To say I’m still alive even though I had cancer. To be silly and wear a costume and to see if they can. To prove that they can. That they are alive. Running. Walking. Panting. Gulping water. Pandering to the crowd, who is cheering them on like an audience at a comedy show. You can do it, Tommy! We’re here to watch you! You’re alive, Betsy! And if you’re alive, I might be alive, too! A little bit, Tina. There might be hope for me yet, Joe. Here, have a cup of water. I love you because you’re running, and that means you’re free.

Today two bombs went off at the end of the race in Boston, during the point when the running becomes its most human. And that is perhaps why I found the explosions so devastating, because they came precisely at the moment when everyone thought it was safe to relax and enjoy themselves, to coast off a great high all the way to the finish. That’s what terrorism is about – catching you off guard, when you least expect it, on a sunny day, when you finally feel totally fully human and alive.

Living in New York since 9/11 (and for about a year before that, too), I’ve felt how this city has changed, how those moments of bliss and freedom seem less and less available, how with the advent of every new, isolating personal technology the world gets smaller and smaller, more fearful, less human. Events like a marathon are the pin that occasionally bursts through that protective bubble, breathing fresh air into the naked city, allowing us all to become fleshy blood again. Now this running, too, of wild spirits who just want to prove they can, will become another exercise in terror prevention, focused on chaos and fear.

Eventually something will give, because runners can’t run with one shoe on, waiting for the other one to drop. Look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers said, yes. But look at everybody. Keep your head up, face in the wind. Listen to the cheers and keep on running.

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