It took me a while to be ready to write after running the Boston Marathon and experiencing (from afar--thankfully) the events afterwards. I wrote this to share with a small publication within JHSPH that is run by students but thought I would share here as well. I will have a lot more to write about the marathon in the coming weeks.
The death of the eight year old on Monday is an inspiration to me to renew my commitment to the premise by which I have led my life up to this point and to take that commitment joyfully into the future. Reaching one goal shouldn’t make me complacent. It should simply set me up to set and reach other goals. If the goal is not to miss anything in life, then my wife and my sons and I will be busy. But I think it can be a joyful and happy form of busy reflecting the passions that each of us have for different things in life in which we wish to excel and that we wish to enjoy.
Inspiration from an Eight Year Old I Did Not Know
People sometimes ask me why I lead such a busy life. I see it as a rich and full life that also happens to be busy rather than just a busy life. But, leaving semantics behind, I would like to use my Boston Marathon 2013 experience to frame and answer to this question once and for all.
On April 15, 2013, I ran my first (and for the foreseeable future only) Boston Marathon. I had worked for three years to get there. I decided to run a marathon in January 2010. I started my training for the 2010 Baltimore Marathon in May of that year and over the next 22 months ran a total of four marathons before I finally qualified for Boston. April 15 was described in advance by one of my training partners as the pinnacle of the running side of my life and she encouraged me to reach for greatness. From my 3 AM nervous wake up until I finished the race around 1:20 PM, the Boston Marathon was something I could think of as the best running experience I ever had and while I did not run my best marathon time ever I spent every minute of my 3:15:56 with the goal of reaching for excellence in my mind. Then, even for the first 90 minutes after the race the day continued to be the best running experience ever. I met up with the two men with whom I’d traveled to Boston. We all accomplished what we wanted. We enjoyed some post-race activities and were preparing to return to our hotel and come home.
That was when the explosions occurred.
My two friends and I were on the subway when someone noticed information about the explosion on Twitter. Everyone reached for their phones. As information began to emerge, the subway was evacuated. We were left wondering about the extent of what happened as multiple emergency vehicles raced by and needing to find an alternative means to return to the hotel. When we arrived at the hotel more details emerged. The most heart wrenching of all the details to come out that afternoon and evening was that an eight year old boy who had been there to watch his father was one of the three fatalities associated with the explosions.
That was difficult for me because I have an eight year old. While my own family had never intended to join me in Boston, they could have. And no one could have predicted when the explosions were going to occur. If my family had made slightly different decisions and the attack had been planned slightly differently, that could have been my son.
Reflection on this point led to an interesting Facebook post exchange with a young woman I had mentored when she was a student in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State, where I had done my undergraduate work. After she posted about glad for my safety, I posted back, “Thinking of the development I have seen in you since I mentored you in SHC at PSU and the way I lead my life (so busy and so full) this is just a reminder to live life to the fullest EVERY DAY since each of us has no idea when life as a whole or some important part will be pulled out from underneath us in a way we could never guess.” After that we shared a back an forth about how this same sentiment motivated us both and how I could take at least a little credit for her sharing the sentiment with me.
My life is full because I don’t want to miss anything and I don’t want my wife and sons to miss anything either. This point was emphasized by the loss of life not only for the eight year old but also two relatively young other individuals in the explosions and the many serious injuries that will leave lives changed forever.
Do I do a lot? Yes. Is it too much to try to fit in? Possibly. Do I sometimes wish I had more time to just sit around? Yes.
However, when I ask myself what I have gained by leading a full and rich and busy life I find the following. I have found the person I love to spend my life with (married nearly 21 years now), found multiple personal and community activities I love to be involved with (running, Sunday school teaching, worship band at church), found a job I love and have been successful in (full professor and now vice dean), and brought up three boys who are now 17, 13, and 8 to experience all that life has to offer them at those ages.
Finishing the Boston Marathon in a near personal best time gets me past one item that was a long-term goal. However, it was just one goal. I am only 43 and have what I hope are many years to live and many miles to run before I die. However, if something had happened to me as a runner on Monday, I would enter whatever comes after life on Earth not worrying that I had missed something.