i woke up at 6 am this morning, totally exhausted, eyes barely able to focus. i went to bed at 11 pm (friday night! woo!) after a very long, enjoyable day. the alarm was set so early because Sports Illustrated was in town to take a photo to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing, highlighting the strength, community, and resilience in the runners and our city. last year’s SI cover showed a nearly empty and chaotic Boylston Street; the goal of today was to create a stark contrast to that by filling the area around the finish line with Bostonites in Boston and marathon gear, surrounding each other, lifting each other up, cheering each other on. because i had such a personal experience after being at the marathon last year, every time i saw the posts asking people to come to the finish line today, something kept reaching out to me. so, while sleep was her usual sultry seductress this morning, i forced myself up, and walked out the door.
arriving at the corner of Exeter and Boylston Streets, the police barricades and stream of people was vast. i walked up, alone, buoyed by the number of people present. the only thing preventing me from crying was how many people were laughing, smiling, hugging, cheering. the positivity was palpable. i wasn’t really looking for anyone i knew, just observing what was happening, and trying to find a place to stand so i could see what the people directly at the finish line were being instructed to do. even Sports Illustrated had a hard time wrangling Boston, which, if you haven’t heard, while not particularly known for it’s flexibility, does have a strong respect for and faith in all things sports. randomly, i saw a familiar face – Sara – a woman i had worked with years ago who had been running the marathon for as long as i’d known her, and i snaked through the crowd to say hello. we greeted each other and she introduced her fellow team runner, Robyn. almost immediately, the exchanges about the 117th marathon began. where were we. what did we see, hear, feel. who did we talk with. why did we come today. another person standing with them, Kim, said that she had been a volunteer last year. she told us about the fear. the response. the support. and then we all started to talk about running, volunteering, the marathon in general. suddenly we were laughing, taking pictures, chatting together like kids on a playground. others around us joined in, too. cracking jokes about the photo shoot. yelling to the person with the huge bunch of yellow balloons to get them out of the way of everyone’s faces. it was the most comfortable i’ve ever felt in a crowd. it was family.
Robyn, Sara, Kim, and i at the Sports Illustrated photo shoot, Boston, MA. 12 April 2014.
Sara and Robyn are both running the marathon this year and had taken a break from their final team training run to come to the photo shoot. after they left to get back to the team, Kim and I kept talking, sharing what our experiences with the explosions had been like. we discovered all of these connections we had and kept talking, even after the photos had been taken and the crowd dwindled. we had family in the same places. we went to the same university. we had a shared work location. so we went to Starbucks. we talked for over an hour. about family, careers, our alma mater, our experiences with the marathon. we laughed. we held in tears, overwhelmed by emotion. we sat in silence. we couldn’t stop talking.
and then it was time to go.
we hugged goodbye, we parted ways, connected.
given the nature of how small the world is, i will probably see Kim again. i don’t buy chance encounters and value immensely meeting someone who is open enough to life to reach out and embrace it. we are often too afraid, too guarded, too focused on the circles we are already in, to really let life in. there is so much in the world for us to absorb and so many opportunities for us to share in the human experience, should we choose to. nothing forced, nothing required, just genuine engagement with another person, face to face, in whatever way possible. a smile is enough to change everything.
in addition to the unexpected joy i received today, the people i went to the finish line for are featured on the site Dear World: Boston Marathon. so grateful to all of them for their courage, their commitment, and, most of all, their voices. my heart is with you.
photo by Robert X. Fogarty, Dear World, and used from Runner’s World feature on his Dear World: Boston project.
getting up this morning wasn’t just a chance for me to step up for them. it was a an opportunity for me to “life up“. and instead of the world feeling smaller, reduced by the interconnectedness of a random encounter with an old friend and hopefully a new one, it feels larger, wider, and enhanced by it. by a hello. a photograph. and a cup of joyful coffee in my worn out Nikes.
For more on the photo shoot, here is coverage from SI on today’s events, in their words, as well as those of others present.
For more on fundraising efforts for The One Fund, the main fundraising group for affected people and businesses, or to learn about the Boston Athletic Association, the organizer of the marathon, please visit their links.