As the ancient Greek tale goes, Pheidippides, a messenger, ran some 40 kilometers from a battlefield in Marathon to Athens to deliver news that the Persians had been defeated. With his last breath, he declared "νικωμεν" ("we have won"), before collapsing to the floor and dying.
We run for many reasons. For sport. For causes. For solidarity. Sometimes, we run with colors—pink or red or green or blue. We buddy up or we train alone. We travel mile after mile with numbers across our chests. A sea of branded co-travelers, placing foot in front of foot for personal victory, pounding the pavement to make a point, if only to ourselves.
Hours after the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon, it's unclear how many collapsed and died yesterday.
Sometimes, there is no message. Just senseless violence.
We've reached a template of sort for tragedies in this nation. News of horror breaks. We experience it—as much as one can virtually experience a tragedy—in 140 characters, and in twitpics and Facebook streams. The news unfolds as haphazardly as it has since society was formed: Rumor moves likes brushfire through the masses, though now it moves much quicker through a much larger field spanning every corner of the globe. It's not so much a fog of war as an avalanche of aftershock in these circumstances, with millions latching on to every bit of information showering down from the scene. Some facts are accurate, some are proven not. The reality, however, that this moment is a dividing line between then and now is immutable.
"Shattered" is a word that's used often in times like these. Whether it was after the Denver movie theater shootings or the Newtown massacre or now, with Boston's horror, "shattered" aptly describes the sensation we feel when cruelty stabs familiarity. We imagine the terror flashing through our own existence. How would it have felt to be there? What would I have done? What if that happened to me? Could it happen to me?
If there is any message to be gleaned from yesterday, it's to be found not in those who ran through the finish line, but in those heroes who ran back toward it. In video and in witness accounts, first responders, marathon participants and bystanders alike rushed toward the blast zone. They ran toward the chaos to lift mangled barriers so they could access the victims. They ran to help and reportedly used lanyards as tourniquets. They ran as they wheeled the limbless to ambulances. They ran to aid those who may never run again. In hospitals across Boston, EMTs, doctors, nurses and staff ran to attend to the flood of casualties streaming through their ER doors.
They ran. And they saved lives.
The phrases that we read in press releases and that fall from people's lips are cliche by now, but cliches are within easiest reach when the mind is still trying to comprehend catastrophe. "Unspeakable horror." "Unimaginable tragedy."
Through our computers, in status updates and tweets and blog posts, we offer up thoughts and prayers. Not that those fighting for their lives right now in Boston will ever read our wishes, but we utter sympathy because for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every act of terror or horror unleashes an explosion of humanity. Across nations, creeds and cultures, that gut-wrenching reaction and that urge to do or say anything to ease pain is universal. It's our soul's way of reminding us that despite the acts of madmen, we as a society are, for the most part, good rather than evil.
That good, that humanity, is the message to take away from yesterday's marathon.
To all those who put that goodness and humanity on display with their actions yesterday: thank you.
8:03 PM PT: From Business Insider: "13 Examples Of People Being Awesome After The Attack On The Boston Marathon"
Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, "What do you think happened?" If the answer is, "I don't know," then the simplest reply might be something like, "I'm sad about the news, and I'm worried. But I love you, and I'll take care of you." [...]
Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: "My mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers-so many caring people in this world."