Half the world away [the Boston marathon]

Last night my friends and I walked out of a particularly brilliant double-bill and director Q&A to news of the Boston Marathon bombings. The crowd of people coming out of the cinema was abuzz with the news. We spent the train ride home scanning news sites and twitter for information, texting people who had contacted us during the films. It was a quiet ride home and we were somewhat shell-shocked. The news came on top of the death of a 23-year-old man at this year’s Brighton marathon. It has been a dark week for the running community.

A bombing somewhere that you do not expect a bombing is always a shock. On a personal level, this was slightly more so. Just last week, all four of us who were at the cinema were present at the finish line of the Paris Marathon: one of us racing, the rest of us watching and cheering and then just hanging out. The memory of how happy and emotional a time that was jars very, very badly with the images now on the news.

Three people dead; one reportedly an eight-year-old. Many injured. And the other thing I can’t get past – aside from bombing an international marathon at all – is the timing of it. If you’re running Boston, you’re doing it because you’re an elite runner or you do it for charity. Elite means you can get across that line in about three hours. By the time those explosions happened, the only runners still on the course were likely those running it for charity – to do some good and raise some money – and the people watching it not necessarily sports fans, but supportive friends and family. My heart goes out to them, and to Boston as a whole, which has strong sports and arts community and is the only city in America I’ve never heard a qualifying description of (‘New York is great, but everyone is in such a rush’; ‘LA is great, but it’s all so plastic and smoggy’; ‘Boston is great’.)

As I write this, I don’t believe anyone has taken responsibility for the bombings, and possibly it’ll turn out to be the work of one crazy person with a personal agenda – but the first thing one thinks of these days is terrorists. Twitter is in overdrive, of course, and some recognition goes to Amanda Palmer (a Bostonite herself) for encouraging people to check the sources of their information and not spread unsubstantiated rumours and panic. Most messages I’m reading are ones of support (because I’m choosy about who I follow, and anyone who could get snarky about this is not someone I would have time for).

Boston is the holy grail of marathons – it’s for the really, really good people. The running community is tight-knit, supportive one – being runners together takes precedence over nationality. Most of us have, if not run a marathon, been to watch one. We know the atmosphere, the random connections between strangers, the carnival feeling, the music, the cheering, the exchange of energy where you shout to an exhausted runner to just keep going and watch as they pick themselves up and push on. And the big marathons are, and I can’t say this enough, an international event. You can see all the country flags lined up at the edge of the course on the videos of the explosion. Watching a big marathon is like being on holiday, the sheer number of different languages that bounce around. They feel like a place where boundaries are down and cultural differences are forgotten, because it doesn’t matter who you are – everyone present is there to will you over the finish line.  For that reason I have difficulty thinking of the explosions as an attack specifically on the US.

A few people have inevitably pointed out that Afghanistan and Pakistan and Somalia and Iraq were all subject to bombs in the past few days, that they are a weekly occurrence, and yet not such a great fuss is made about it. The thing is, while it is not right and it’s not okay that there are bombs going off anywhere in the world, we’ve grown up with continuous news coverage of shooting and bombings in various countries, countries that we associate with some kind of bloodshed and conflict. It is still bad and tragic, but to some extent the world has sadly become numb to that news. When a bomb goes off somewhere that has, in comparison, been a war-free, peaceful area (and I’m referring more to Boston than the US as a whole here, but you catch my meaning, I hope) of COURSE the world and the countries’ citizens react with very vocal shock and horror, no matter if the death count is smaller than a bombing elsewhere. I really believe that recognition that a bad thing has happened in Boston does not undermine the recognition of bad things happening anywhere else; that no one’s pain is less because someone else is also suffering. There is enough anguish to go around.

The London marathon is this coming weekend, and talk of ramping up security is understandably in full swing.  News of a campaign for runners to wear black armbands in memory of fallen runners, which existed long before this happened, is now spreading. I suspect the bombings will not prevent people from coming out in full support, though. If anything, there may be more than usual. But a day that already has a heavy dose of sadness in amongst the joy (have you ever read the backs of people’s charity pledges? ‘For my mum, so brave’; ‘For my granddad 1930-2012’. Most charity runners are running with grief) will be that bit heavier of heart, and everyone across the finish line will be that little bit more sober in their triumph.

I do not in any way intend to offend anyone with this entry and I hope I haven’t. This is a personal blog and not journalism. The people affected by Boston and Brighton are in my thoughts (clearly, or I wouldn’t be writing this).

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