The Boston Marathon.
One of the most epic inspiring marathons in the world. I’ve never run it, although I’ve always wanted to.
Since I metamorphosed from a large rugby front row forward who moved around the park like a rhinoceros at war, to an elephant rampaging in a straight line seeking water, I’ve wanted to run THE five majors. One of those targets that you see, and everyone at races talks about and you follow every year. You applaud the organisation, you smile with the participants, you cheer them on from in front of the TV, knowing full well the effort that goes into each and every marathon, the stress and strain that takes you and them over the 26 miles, not forgetting the final 385 yards. I’ve only watched Boston a few times, preferring Berlin and London which at least are in our time zone. But I’ve been caught up in the euphoria that is those two great marathons, and as they’re part of the famous five, now six, I reckon they’re all the same at heart.
For me, the big marathons are all about the crowds and their participation. If you want to run a race, as the old phrase goes, run a hundred metres. If you really want to change your life, and your perspective on life, run the distance. If you want change your life irrevocably, strap on your Brooks and go out the door. Because when you come home, you won’t think the same as when you went out.
Something changes, it’s hard to define, but every little bit of you views the world a little different.
Because when you go that far, little dignity remains, for me any way. I’m not a front leading gazelle calmly high stepping in front of the cameras. But I am one of the many, inelegantly pounding it out, determined to finished, sure to enjoy and defined to become one of the finishing numbers for that 26 miles. History won’t define me, I’ll decide my legacy, I’ll impress my own footsteps in the sand, I’ve always had a hankering to lead rather than follow. And if you ever need to clear your head and define what is important, then spend three or four hours racing, it will clarify your thought process like nothing else. Little bull survives that endurance event.
So when I heard about Martin Richard, aged 8, I couldn’t believe it. The scum don’t target runners, we’ve little publicity and no reason to attack. Runners can’t live though without their family and friends supporting them. We will fall off and stop, because they keep us going. But Martin was in the crowd, having a great Patriot Day, relaxing, cheering, supporting, giving that invaluable support that keeps social runners like me going. His dad needed his cheers. Bill is a neighbour activist, a runner, a father, a man who finishes marathons. He kept running, because he knew Martin was waiting for him. We all knew a hundred Martins were waiting, we smack their palms, we cheer with them ,their enthusiasm makes us smile. And his wife was there, their son Henry and their daughter Jane.
And then it happened.
It didn’t happen at the two hour mark when the elites came rolling home, barely breaking a sweat. It didn’t happen at 3 hours, when the serious runners who aspired to run with the elites and were cruising, beat their own PB’s crossing the finish line. It happened when the social runners came home, the ones who were no threat to anyone, but had the maximum support in the crowd, the over 4 hours who really enjoyed their running. The wounds caused were intentional. All lower limb injuries, the worst possible for a runner. The deep psychological injury caused by losing a leg for a runner cannot be under-estimated. Did they deliberately put the explosive packed pressure cookers at ground level, or did they do that by accident?
The world changed, again.
I watched the horrors of 9/11 one afternoon, not really comprehending what had just materialised.
I didn’t know the world had changed, beyond the parameters of what we had once enjoyed, although I did suspect that certain societies in the Middle East were about to feel the full wrath of the America military machine, justifiably. I may even have initially subscribed to the philosophy of bombing those responsible back to the proverbial Stone Age.
But now I don’t know. We don’t know who was responsible for this. Nor really do I care, other than I want the culprits to be caught, tried pursuant to Rule of law, and convicted, to suffer such due process of punishment as a jury of their peers shall deem fit.
But I don’t want a lynch mob. I don’t want the memory of those who died to be desecrated by the idea that a mob may impose their own precepts of law on the society we live in. Because if that happens, then the society we live in and fight to protect has been desecrated, and that is abhorrent to me. We as lawyers have fought for millennia for rule of law, mostly without recognition, and sub judice. We survive the brickbats and lawyer jokes with a pained smile, knowing there is a higher purpose to what we do. And we succeed. We have a civilised society, the finer points of which are supported by a lawyer generally acting pro bono, and a Judge that analyses and accepts the faults of the society we live in, and sees the change necessary. He knows he can’t legislate, a function reserved to Dail Eireann, but he knows the weak and meek in our society need to be protected. He knows they need to be able to walk our streets unchallenged, unharrassed, as welcome members of society as you and I.
But that is now challenged.
On RTE mid-morning radio, Pat Kenny introduced a commentator in Boston who compared Belfast to Boston. He had been used to life in Belfast, the soldiers, the searches, the suspicion, the ever extant doubt that gripped the society. The pain that made the society divide. The constant fear of a random act of violence that would take one you knew and loved. The constant supposed paranoid supervision of police and army guardians that struggled to control those who wanted to inflict their terror on others.
And he thought Boston was worse. The man who knew the hurt of Belfast, the pain of the Northerners. Soldiers wouldn’t let athletes into their own hotels, still clad in the salt encrusted sweat stained shorts and singlets from the day before. The authorities that be shut down the cell phone networks, fearing the terrorists who caused this would use the network to co-ordinate their attacks, or set off further munitions. Family hysterical about their relatives running left 20 or 30 unanswered messages, not know their loved ones were feverently doing the same thing. Fear controlled Boston, not the rule of law.
Those responsible need to be brought to rule of law immediately, or as soon as is feasibly possible. How the combined law enforcement authorities of the USA do that is a matter for them.
But more importantly America needs to recover. She needs to know we, the civilised societies of the world are behind her, especially the runners who feel that pain more acutely than mere spectators. America, we are behind you, such atrocious and despicable acts cannot go unpunished, and those responsible need to be made accountable. In this we can pledge support. No safe haven shall be accorded to them under our watch, no matter where in the world.
And the freedom of America cannot be infringed, simply because of the terror tactics of a few. Let those citizens walk the streets, let them eat burgers and shakes, let them go to the Mall and the diner, let them enjoy being alive, because that is what the freedom of USA represents. And we will support that ideal for ever.
Because if you stop the people enjoying their daily lives, then the terrorists have won. And that can never happen. Even if I weren’t a lawyer the concept of few forcefully imposing their views on a majority would sicken me. Because I’ll live in that democracy, it may not be perfect, but it rings true with me. Seneca, Pliny and Aristotle didn’t talk that much rubbish after all…
And for us runners, the acute pain for those who died, and the hundreds more who were touched by the tragedy. We feel your pain, and we’ll be there when you need us. And next weekend in London, those running will raise a silent toast every mile to those who died, cognisant of what those who sought to impose their will have failed to do. And to those running for Temple Street Children’s Hospital, good luck. I couldn’t make it this year but I will next year.
In memoriam Boston, et al.