Yesterday’s events brought to mind one of my favorite Robert Frost poems, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
It was my second consecutive Patriots’ Day in Boston, a much cooler one than 2012′s slog. Not content to stand on the sideline this year, I bandited the last 10 kilometers, a bib-less runner pacing a friend from mile 20 onward.
All running races must sink. The anticipation morphs into a memory; the roads re-open to cars; the blue-and-yellow jackets disperse.
But it shouldn’t sink like that. Not at a marathon. Not at The Marathon.
At 1:15 p.m., we crossed the finish line.
I helped my friend through the usual post-marathon routine: water, heat sheet, medal, food, bag-collection, changing clothes, laughing, groaning, analyzing what happened. After that, I ran back to my friend Jake’s place in Coolidge Corner, near mile 24.
At 2:50 p.m., I was in the shower. Two miles away, the unimaginable happened.
Jake and some other friends had been barbecuing and drinking and high-fiving runners all afternoon. I couldn’t wait to join them, but a proper transition from athlete to spectator required cleansing and food. I would not join them.
At 3:05 p.m., I was attempting to light Jake’s grill to heat up some leftover burgers.
My phone rang. It was my friend Eric. I operate the non-profit he started, so I figured he was calling to check in on something.
“Hey, man. Are you ok?”
It’s one of those opening non sequiturs you never want to hear. It doesn’t matter who’s saying it, whether it’s your mother or your funniest friend. “Yeah, I’m fine. Did something happen?”
“A couple of bombs went off at the finish line. I saw some pictures on Twitter. It looks like total carnage.”
The sounds of airhorns, cheers, and cowbells continued to waft over from Beacon Street, guiding exhausted runners toward a goal no one knew they would never reach.
We spent the next few hours in front of various screens: television, computer, phone. All I could do was stare ahead in disbelief.
In that span, I learned several things about myself. I have many, many friends who care about me. I’ve grown since the last time I was glued to a tv this way, on 9/11, when I was 16 – my friends and I were yelling at the junk theories being spewed by local reporters and national organizations. (Was coverage this bad in 2001?)
I also realized how useless my skill set would be in a situation like this. I can tie a tourniquet, but that’s it. So I’ve resolved to take a course in triage. God forbid I ever have to use such knowledge, but given my habits – running, cycling, living in New York – it seems a safe bet it’ll be useful someday.
The event led to an inexplicable melange of feelings: anger that someone would do such a thing, sadness for the victims and their families, relief that no one I knew was affected, confusion.
But I soon realized, with the help of Patton Oswalt, that the light of humanity was overcoming the darkness.
The onlookers who rushed toward an unknown danger to help the injured.
The businesses and residents who opened their doors to the lost and stranded.
The friends near and far who made sure I was all right.
Perhaps it’s true that nothing gold can stay. But as we saw in the aftermath of yesterday’s horror, perhaps it can be replaced by something nearly as lustrous.
I was in line for coffee this morning in Brookline when the woman in front of me turned around. “Were you there?” she asked, probably having seen my Brooklyn Marathon jacket and cheering sign. “I was a lot earlier,” I said. “And you?”
“A lot later. My kids were waiting for me at the finish line. Fortunately, they were between the two blasts.” She stroked the hair of her six-year-old daughter, whose gap-filled mouth exuded a blank expression.
I didn’t know what to say.