My father, Henry C. Everett, and stepmother,
Beverly, clap and cheer for the "pluggers" at
mile 21 after running out of water cups in 2002,
our last marathon together.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I was raised in Lexington, MA, where Patriots Day got its start, and went with my father to the Unitarian Universalist church there. In my home town, Patriots Day was the biggest holiday, with the reenactment and the parade. In my father's personal humanist religion, the Boston Marathon was the holiest day, and handing water to the runners, along with providing abundant encouragement, was its sacrament. I grew up going down to the course every year with my father to give water to the runners. In the days before Gatorade and Poland Spring, crowd support meant the difference between finishing and not finishing. He did it to celebrate the spirit of overcoming great obstacles - physically, mentally and spiritually.
He told me about being in the Army stationed in Korea in 1947, when a Korean won the Boston Marathon. At that time Koreans were struggling to recover their national pride and identity, and the jubilation was enormous. My father delighted in celebrating along with his Korean friends. He ran cross country in college, and although he never trained for the marathon distance, he knew what it meant to run 26.2 miles. I think the marathon has a particular cultural resonance in Korea, where their art of Tae Kwon Do is organized around five tenets, two of which are Perseverance, and Indomitable Spirit. I have since practiced Tae Kwon Do for most of my life.
My father became a psychiatrist who helped people overcome mental obstacles. He taught me that the people who benefit most from the water and from the encouragement are not the elite runners who are racing against each other, but the "pluggers", as he called them, that great mass of runners for whom finishing is winning, taking 4-6 hours. It was against these runners, their families, and their supporters, that yesterday's murderous attack was directed.
I finally got to see the Boston Marathon from the other side, as one of those pluggers, in 2008, and again in 2010. The crowd support in Boston is legendary, and to experience it is transcendent. I must have high-fived 100 kids between Hopkinton and Wellesley in 2008. In 2010 I was running for the Boston Medical Center team where I was in fellowship for hematology and oncology. My right knee had started giving me trouble in Natick, and by the time I was in Newton I was seriously doubting if I could finish. A woman standing on the grassy median of Commonwealth Avenue saw my shirt and screamed "Team BMC! Go Team BMC!!!" Then she jumped up and down and pointed to the older woman sitting in a lawn chair next to her, "You saved this woman's life!!! Go BMC!!!!" And go I did. Even now my colleagues at BMC, and all the big hospitals of Boston, are saving lives torn apart by yesterday's bombs.
The violence done to the people yesterday at the Boston Marathon would have broken my father's heart. He died in 2004. Although I very much wish that he had lived long enough to hand me a cup of water at our traditional 21st mile spot, I caught myself being glad that he was spared the knowledge of yesterday's horror. And yet, I find myself feeling doubly heartbroken, outraged, and upset, once for myself, and once on his behalf. For me, this was an attack on the memory of my father's spirit.
This was also an attack on our city and our people at their very, very best, and we met it with our best as well. By all accounts, the world-class medical presence that saturated the finish line, along with alert and capable athletes and bystanders, some of them veterans with IED experience, saved many lives and made a horrible situation not nearly as horrible as it could have been. It will take some time to grieve and absorb the loss of life and limb. I am grateful that my four friends and their families who ran yesterday got home safely, but painfully aware that many others did not. If Marathon Monday means anything, it means that we celebrate and practice the indomitable spirit. It can not be taken from us. I am still trying to figure out for myself how to best respond to this act of terror. The feelings are still too fresh. The best response is always to refuse to be terrorized. For me, I think that might mean running Boston again.