Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Light--Bright and Sterile or Warm and Glowing

This is the thirteenth entry in my Beyond Boylston writing cycle (12 truly after Boylston and one about my bib number that was written before I had the opportunity to run down Boylston street but that has an important connection to my running the Boston Marathon and moving past the experience nonetheless.  Thus, it is half way.  Half way through a race I sometimes think of it as being able to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.  Although I tend to use that metaphor mostly when the race is an out and back type of loop which the Boston Marathon definitely is not.

But light is also one of the key remaining elements in the tattoo that Emily created last year.  Specifically, the modern St. Sebastian is chained to a lamppost under a light at nine at night.  In almost all of the medieval and renaissance artwork depicting St. Sebastian he is tied to a tree in a loin cloth and full of arrows.  In my tattoo he has just two arrows and he is in the modern equivalent of being tied to a tree.

What does the light do?  On the one hand we could interpret the light as drawing attention to the one who has been shot with arrows.  If we think about punishment throughout the ages, sometimes the punishment is hidden so that no one knows exactly what is going on.  At other times the punishment is clear and out in the open--under the lights so to speak--to draw attention to what is going on.  To make an example of what is going on.  Jesus having to carry the cross to where he was crucified. The crucifixion being carried out in a place where so many could see.  St. Sebastian depicted as being shot by archers and left to die in a place where he would be noticed.  All of these are a negative use of something I usually think of in a positive way.

No matter what the true motivation of the two men who stand accused of the bombing at the Boston Marathon they chose the finish line on the beautiful sunshiny day to draw attention.  So, once again, I feel torn by the symbol that is represented in my tattoo and a symbol that I associate with the marathon experience.  People trying to draw attention to a very negative outcome.

However, the light in my tattoo was also helpful for Irene to find St. Sebastian to rescue him.  And while there may be negative interpretations of a light being shined to draw attention to a negative, the most association with light in my mind is with a positive.  Specifically, I think of light as a symbol of hope.  A symbol of goodness.  Perhaps there is an important distinction between a bright white sterile light that is only intended to show a harsh reality and the warm glow of a light intended to guide, to warm, and to provide hopefulness.

The Boston Marathon should be a sign of hopefulness.  It captures the human spirit trying to achieve a goal.  It is the end of a time of striving for so many.  Striving before the race to qualify and to get there and striving on the day of the race to go from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.

Beyond that it is amazing to think of how many people are involved.  Not just the 27,000 runners who are registered.  Not just the 20,000+ who actually started the race.  But also the 8,500 volunteers.  At least that is the number that I recall being quoted at some point either at the expo, at the runner's dinner on Sunday night, or at the start of the race.

Why do I associate volunteers with light? Well, we can go back to George H. W. Bush's comment about the thousand points of light.  He was referring to volunteers.  Now, he was probably referring to volunteers going overseas doing missionary work or working with inner city schools or cleaning up the waterways.  

I don't think that George H. W. Bush was referring to volunteers for the Boston Marathon.  Although perhaps he was.  The fact of the matter is that the experience would be something entirely different without that many volunteers.  That is a ratio of approximate one volunteer for every three runners.  In some ways that seems crazy.  But volunteers are needed throughout the entire process.  Setting up the expo.  Guiding runners at the expo.  Handing out bib numbers.  Handing out t-shirts.  Setting up the dinner for racers on Sunday.  Managing the line for the dinner on Sunday.  Handing out food at the dinner.  Dealing with waste disposal at the dinner.  Handing out goodie bags at the end of the dinner.  Cleaning up after dinner.  Making sure racers know where to get on the buses to Hopkinton on Monday.  Guiding racers once at Hopkinton.  Handing out goodies at Hopkinton.  Taking runners' bags and putting them on school buses.  Getting runners to the start.  Handing out water and nutrition along the race course.  Medics.  Greeting runners at the finish line.  Handing out water and blankets and medals and goodie bags.  Handing runners' checked bags back.

Not just one thousand points of light.  But over 8,000 points of light.  Maybe some of them have run it before.  Maybe some of them just like supporting others.  The key is that it is an incredibly demonstration of people helping others to achieve a dream.  To check an important item off the bucket list.  It is the best example of what a positive and warm light can mean with respect to the race.  It is a wonderful example of how positive the experience of the Boston Marathon can be for so many on a day when it is not marred by the ugliness of hate with all the media spotlight that it attracted.

Thus, as I finish the half-way entry, I notice a theme that comes up over and over again.  Almost everything can be used for good or for evil.  To help or to harm.  To guide or to destroy.  Light is no different--as depicted in the artwork of my tattoo that I carry with me forever or as in the reality of the situation in Boston.  It is for each of us to choose how to use each thing in life--for good or evil.  And when someone chooses to use something that is intended for good instead for evil to resist the temptation to wallow.  To struggle with figuring out why.  To struggle to move ahead.  And to answer with a resoundingly positive "yes, I can make it better and use it for good" rather than just letting it go.  

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