A fun riff to play on my electric bass is the riff from the 1983 Violent Femmes song, Blister in the Sun. On April 15, 2013, when I was running the Boston marathon I was not thinking about that song. At first glance, the only link between the 1983 song and the Boston Marathon in 2013 was that when I ran track and particularly cross country in high school, a bunch of guys loved to play that song on their boom boxes and sing that song. And that was the first stage of my life at which I had running goals to speak of.
However, I think of blister in the sun now because in the Boston Marathon I got some pretty serious blisters from the sun. Just a change in preposition. I should have known to apply sunscreen. All winter long I had not worn a running singlet very often. When I did wear a running singlet it was usually for a pre-dawn track workout when it was early enough. So, my shoulders were not getting any sun for months. And, needless to say, three hours in the sun starting at 10 o'clock (rather than a more traditional race start time like 8 AM) led to a lot of sun exposure.
First thing on Tuesday morning when my family saw me at home, my whole family noticed how red my shoulders, upper arms, neck, and head were. It didn't hurt much on Tuesday but by Wednesday it was blistering and peeling like crazy. The peeling and itch lasted almost a week. That was incredibly frustrating. Even today--11 days later--there is still a bit of itching.
The frustration actually came from two different aspects of the experience. One aspect was that I should know better. After all, my mother worked at a dermatologist's office for many years as I grew up. I have had major burns before. And at some level, I realized that I would not be in the shade much given the time of day of the race. So, it was a foolish mistake.
The other frustration was that it was a constant reminder of the day. As I was trying to move on, the reminder was pretty constant.
Here is what I thought about. I had let my skin get burned and it was blistering. I was uncomfortable. But every aspect of that was because of a choice I made—or more literally an action I failed to take. I don’t think of it as having “chosen” not to put sunscreen on. Instead, I think of it as simply failing to do something that I know I should have done. I suppose that at some level it is just a matter of semantics. In either case, I did not act in a way that I should have known to act.
Every time I scratched where it itched from the blistering. Every time I put aloe lotion on. Every time I saw skin peeling off in the shower. When these things happened, I thought not only of my own skin issues but the injuries that those who were too near to the explosions at the Boston Marathon had experienced.
I realized that I had a choice. Those affected by the explosions did not.
I realized that I should have anticipated the consequences of my choice. There was no way for those who were affected by the explosions on April 15 to anticipate what would happen.
My skin was burned. The injuries of those who were affected by the explosions were much greater than that.
My discomfort would eventually go away. Many of those who were affected by the explosions on April 15 would have to live with their injuries forever. They would never be able to forget that day. They would never be able to leave it behind.
All I needed to do was to put a little aloe lotion on. That I could do completely for myself with supplies that were readily available. Those injured by the explosions on April 15 needed many other individuals to help them and depended incredibly on the kindness of strangers.
It was very difficulty for me to deal with.
The ironic thing was that I did have sunscreen with me. Did I think to apply it to my face? No. Did I think to apply it to my arms and shoulders? No. I did apply it one place. I applied a lot of sunscreen to my right calf. That is not a place where I have traditionally gotten a lot of sunburn—except for days of standing or sitting outside for long periods of time, such as when we are at the beach and I forget to apply sunscreen. However, I put the sunscreen on my right calf to protect my tattoo. It was very well protected.
The tattoo artist I worked with had told me that it would not take more than two or three bad burns to really make the work she had done and I had sat through look like mush. I wanted to protect the tattoo. So, I was careful.
Looking ahead I will continue to work and protect the tattoo. And the next entry in this series of blog entries will be about the tattoo. I know that I have written about the tattoo in former blog entries quite extensively. The process of getting it lasted from last March until this January. But after the Boston Marathon I have a whole new appreciation and whole new interpretation for the meaning of the tattoo.