Monday, May 20, 2013

Looking Beyond Boston Street at 2:49 PM April 15, 2013

I believe that at some point in my writing I have made reference to the explosions occurring at 2:50 PM on April 15.  But at least one entry on the web claimed it was 2:49.  Obviously, a debate over whether it was 2:49 or 2:50 is splitting hairs.  For me, it does not matter which time it was.  Other than the fact, that in all my writing since then, I have measured it as “time since the Boston Marathon explosions.”  So, for me I think of it as being “beyond Boylston Street at the time of the explosions.” 

The 2:49 time led me back to the Bible on more time.  One more time searching for meaning to draw my thoughts and feelings about the race and about the explosion to some type of conclusion.  Trying to find a hopeful conclusion. 

So, I landed in Psalms.  Verses 2-4 in Psalm 9.  Reading from the New American Bible Revised Edition that I have used again and again in my writing, here is what we find:

I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart;
I will declare all your wondrous deeds.
I will delight and rejoice in you;
I will sing hymns to your name, Most High.
When my enemies turn back,
They stumble and perish before you.

My faith was sustaining me in the time before the marathon.  My faith has continued to sustain me in the time since the marathon.  My faith tells me that God grants free will.  My faith tells me that free will can be used for good or evil purposes.  My faith tells me to believe that it is my responsibility to continue to work to bring about good and to believe that there will be eternal consequences for those who use their free will for evil purposes and who remain unrepentant.  My faith reminds me that I, as other followers of the Catholic and even more Christian faith, are the hands and feet of God here on earth whose job is to bring this world closer to the kingdom of  God.  The kingdom of God is at hand is not and idle prediction of the end of time.  The kingdom of God is at hand is a recognition of the fact that those of us who follow the faith have a job to do in making the earth on which we live the kingdom of God.  It cannot become like what we imagine the kingdom to be without our work.

The verses I have chosen reflect my belief that God has done and continues to do wondrous things.   I should always give him praise.  I love to sing hymns and I always rejoice in what God has to offer.

At mass today, there were several take away messages that help to move me forward from Boylston Street.  First, it was my youngest son’s first Eucharist.   The priest told a long story about how the sacraments received in the church are a spark but how we should seek to make sure that we light a fire for ourselves and for our children and all those coming up in the faith.  In that sense, my continued exploration of my running, my work, my life, my faith, and the meaning I find in the world is my fire.  But it is still a fire that is mostly within me.  To truly help to bring about the wondrous things that those who are the hands and feet of God here on earth are asked to bring about, I need to make sure that the fire spreads. 

The other take away message from mass was the importance of forgiveness.   Creating forgiveness is one of the most wondrous things that God ever did.  But I, here on earth, have to remember that it is not only God who forgives, but people who are asked to forgive as well.

The reading at today’s mass (celebrating Pentecost as well as my youngest child’s first Eucharist) focused on when Jesus addressed his disciples and told them that the sins they choose to forgive would be forgiven.  The sins that they choose to hold bound would be held bound.

Jesus was speaking in the sense of having his apostles act on his behalf to forgive sins in what would become a sacramental manner.

What is interesting is to think about how this related to me as an individual. The priest at mass today also reminded us that for God who has no time, we were essentially there in the upper room with Jesus.  If I was spiritually in the upper room with the apostles, what does that mean to me?  In a practical way, I can forgive sins or hold people bound in my heart.  Not sacramentally like a priest would, but in the deepest reaches of my heart and soul.

For my forgiveness, it has less to do with repentance that the priest’s forgiveness.  Why?  I am not God.  I am in no position to judge whether someone is truly repentant.  I will leave that to God.  But for the good of the future of my interaction with a person and really with the world, I have to forgive.   When I choose to hold someone bound for his or her sins against me, it hurts not just the person who is being held bound, but it also hurts me.

That realization, that I am being hurt by holding someone else bound was quite startling.

Much the same way that I talked about wanting to let go and move beyond, this all comes back to my ability to move beyond.  As long as I hold a fellow human being bound for his or her sins, I limit myself.  I have to be able to say, “I forgive” to even come close to finding the unicorn and reaching the ultimate finish line that I have reflected on in my past two entries.

Will granting forgiveness guarantee me a clear path to a finish line?  Probably not.  But after the insight I gained from today’s readings and interpretation by our priest I know that failing to grant forgiveness will keep me from moving forward.

It is quite cliché but forgiving does not imply forgetting.  I am ready, after 26 essays to say that I forgive the attackers as individuals who were looking for a way to make a point and get attention for their cause and who chose a very poor way of making a point.  I will never forget.  And I expect some type of earthly consequence for the living brother.  If it were not for the events, I would have no ill will toward either brother.  They are two people of a different faith with a different set of ideas. 

Forgiveness has set me free. And even though I still feel a bit short of the finish line or finding the unicorn for which I have seen so many clues, I have now reached a point at which my ill will and anger—at them, at the situation in the world that leads to such actions, and at the uncertainty that it created in my life—are basically a small shadow or fraction of what they once were. 

I am ready to move on beyond Boylston Street into mile 27 of my life with other priorities and other points of focus for the future. 

© 2013, Kevin D. Frick 

The Unicorn

One thing that I had not appreciated about the Boston Marathon until I attended the expo before the race was the prevalence of the unicorn as a symbol of the race.  The Boston Marathon jackets have a unicorn symbol on them.  The medals have a unicorn symbol on them.  The ring that I purchased has a unicorn symbol on it.  I see the unicorn as a symbol so much that I am quite certain that I must have received other material from the Boston Athletic Association earlier that had the unicorn symbol on it that I had simply not noticed.  Or it did not make enough of an impression on me to really focus on the question—what is the meaning of the unicorn?

I still cannot say exactly what the meaning of the unicorn is.  I don’t think I ever found what might be considered an “official” answer.  But I did see a number of interpretations while I searched online.  I forget whether we were at the expo when I searched or at the dinner for athletes or on the subway back to the hotel for Sunday night.  But the “when” really doesn’t matter.  The explanation that appealed most to me and that I remember the most is hat matters in this case.  That explanation was that it symbolized the unattainable. 

No one—that we know of—has ever seen a unicorn. 

Think about the first marathon—legend has it that the guy who ran the distance died right away.  So, we could sort of say he achieved it but not really.  Or at least not with a value that he was able to extend beyond the run itself. 

Think about the number of people who actually run marathons and who even are able to run marathons.  Many people I know simply say, “I could never run that far.”  I tell people that if they really were interested and really set their minds to it, they may surprise themselves.  Depending on a person’s philosophy of running, it is possible to believe that the human body evolved to run long distances at a relatively slow pace.  For some of us the pace is much slower than others, but the key is that our bodies do seem well suited for sustained cardiovascular activity. 

Even among the people who think they cannot or truly cannot run a marathon distance, there are some who never will be able to qualify for Boston.  The ties that one needs to qualify are not incredibly fast—compared with the best in the world.  But the standard is high.  The standard is high to make it a challenge.  Many will never be able to meet the challenge of running the distance at a certain time even if they can run the distance.  This makes the Boston Marathon like the unicorn—just beyond the reach of so many.

Even those who qualify to run it may never meet the goals they set for themselves at the race.  I have one friend who was on his third try.  On his first two tries he was unable to complete without walking despite having a personal best time that is far superior to mine.  He achieved his goal of making it through Boston without any walking on his third try.  He reached it but it had remained just beyond his reach for quite some time.  I made one goal—no walking, although I did not think that walking was very likely—but missed my PR by 91 seconds and missed running the 3:10 I was at least wishing for by almost 6 minutes.  I have not let the non-attainment of that goal haunt me in any way, but it does demonstrate once again the challenge of the course itself and keeping goals just beyond the reach of the runners who participate.

Now, as I commented in the last entry about where I would actually find my finish line, I find that other things are not attainable.  Or have remained just beyond my reach.  Who would have predicted that there would be two men who took actions that made even reaching the finish line an unattainable outcome for so many.  An unattainability that would never have been predicted.  One that I am sure frustrated runners who were affected by this type of unattainability.  A reflection of the anguish that those who have searched for unicorns or sought otherwise unattainable goals have felt over time.  At least my goal setting is under my control.  And my choice of what to seek, how hard to push, how to balance my pushing versus other life priorities, has been under my own control.  The decision to run again—mine.  The decision to race and not just run for exercise—mine.  The decision to race much longer distances that I ever imagined in high school—mine. The decision on what to run in the next one year, five years, or ten years—mine. 

For those who were permanently injured and must live with amputations or other injuries from which they will never fully be made whole—there may be things that will not be attained or that become much more challenging to attain.  Many more unicorns in their lives.  And this is a use of unicorn that does not reflect their beauty and purity but that reflects the fact that they remain just beyond reach.

For the runners who did not finish and may never have the resources to return—a unicorn added to their life.

I doubt the attackers would have thought about creating unicorns.  But there are undoubtedly many more unattainable goals now than before this year’s Boston Marathon.

And yet, many have been inspired.  To set new goals—attainable or not—to qualify, to run the race, and to finish.  All the things that remain just out of reach for so many have not become things that many will seek and some will find.  And for some, just having the opportunity to seek will be enough.

I have sought through these entries to come to a place of stability.  A place of peace.  A place at which I feel like I have reached a point where I can let go except for when others bring it up.  And when others bring it up I do not have an immediate, visceral, and all-encompassing reaction.   I believe I am most of the way there. 

As I noted in my entry about the finish line, a final finish line for the race experience may be something that is unattainable—so my unicorn.  But I think that I am at a point of believing that the unicorn is just around the bend in the next cave.  Or hiding in the next part of the woods I am exploring.  Or will be spotted on the next open grassy knoll. 

It is time to move on with my goal mostly achieved.  The writing has helped.  The friends I have have helped.  My family’s patience has helped.  And it is time to move beyond Boylston Street. To live out my mile 27.  And if there are to be unicorns to seek—to seek other unicorns and leave this one as part of my past.

© 2013, Kevin D. Frick 

When Do I Reach the Finish Line?

The answer to this question may seem patently obvious.  I reached the finish line on Boylston Street on April 15.  I crossed the finish line around the same time as one of the two gentlemen I traveled and spent the weekend with.  I crossed the finish line behind several people I knew and in front of a lot of other people I knew.  I crossed the finish line after nearly 5,000 others, but that was much better than where my qualifying and bib number (7827) would have suggested.  I crossed the finish line that several thousand runners were never able to cross.  And after I crossed the finish line I did not stop immediately as I had done after at least one of the four other marathons I ran.  I kept walking—as everyone who was not physically ill or otherwise incapable of walking/running any further was asked to do at the finish.  I kept walking—glad to have crossed the finish line.  I stayed on my feet—strong enough to keep myself going after the finish line.  And I thought that my Boston experience (aside from getting my medal, getting sa shower, and driving home) was done. 

Finish lines are usually black and white.  I am either on one side of the finish line or the other.  I know exactly where it is.  I know whether the tape has been broken or not if you have any chance of being first.  On a track it is particularly easy since the finish line is almost always in the same place.  The only difficulty on the track is sometimes is keeping track of how many times I have gone around.  For an 800 meter race this is not a big deal.  For the mile it sometimes is a challenge to count.  And for anything longer it is a bigger challenge.  Of course, indoors is even more challenging even for the mile to keep track of just how many times I have gone around—although it has been many years since I had to worry about that.

Sometimes in longer races it can be a challenge to understand where the start and finish lines are.  However, even there it is usually easier to figure out where the finish line is as the finish line usually has some time of inflatable “gateway” that everyone passes through.  And whether it is a large inflatable arch or just some balloons, there is now mistaking where the finish line is. 

When I crossed the finish line I thought it would be black and white.  I was not finished, then I was.  But the attackers actions led to a much different outcome.

It has now been almost five weeks since the Boston Marathon.

I am still processing.

I am still writing.

I am still thinking.

It is not as constant as it was.  I went running with a friend this morning with whom I had not had the opportunity to run since early February or late January.  We managed to go for approximately a one hour run with no mention of Boston—or only the briefest mention.  We had plenty of other things about career and kids, running and fellow runners to catch up on. 

But when I am alone, I still ponder.

When I hear new news, it still grabs my attention.

I’m not sure what the symbolic finish line for the attackers was.  Was their finish line planting the explosives?  Was their finish line detonating the explosives?  Did they have an even bigger finish line in mind with supposed plans for New York city?  I am sure that they did not think their finish line would be death in a shootout and lying in a boat waiting and being captured. 

I imagine they did not ponder how their actions would influence the finish line for so many others.  Obviously, detonating the explosives near the finish line they realized and intended to affect many at the finish line.  Their tiing suggests they did not really understand when an explosion at the finish line would be most harmful—and for that I am thankful.

But their action certainly changed my finish line for this race experience.  Not for the race itself—that ended on Boylston street just as clearly as expected. 

However, if we think about the race experience as a whole, it definitely has extended my experience.  The news coverage following the initial explosions also affected my race experience and the continuation of the race experience.  Every time it makes a top of the news headline again (although the coverage has mostly become inner pages material at this point), the situation again becomes front and center in my mind.

So, in some ways, this feels like a bad dream where the finish line keeps moving further and further away.  The finish line keeps changing.  The rules keep changing.  The expectations and realizations keep changing.

So where will the finish line be for the experience?  I may never reach an absolute finish line.  The race experience finish line will never be as black and white as the race finish line. 

I never would have guessed that this would be the case.

I know that people sometimes talk about achieving some closure.  In this case, I guess it is sort of like asking whether I will cross the finish line.  If I really did achieve closure, then, yes, I would believe I had crossed the finish line.  However, I think I may never get anything more than very close to the finish line.  There will never likely be complete closure.  I can appreciate so much better how people who have suffered a tragic loss talk about things like finding the accused and achieving a conviction make them feel better but don’t necessarily bring closure.  When we finally get all the details of the investigation.  When we finally understand—as best we ever will—the motivation of the brothers.  When we finally have some legal system outcome of the case.  Then, I will feel like I have come very close to the finish line.  But deep inside somewhere, the pain and anger and helplessness that I felt that first afternoon will always be there.  And if there is a black and white I am not sure that I will ever cross the finish line and achieve complete closure on this one.  The best I can hope for is to be within sight of the finish line with no one moving the line ever again.  I’m not sure when I will be there, but I’m not quite there yet.

© 2013, Kevin D. Frick 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Medal

When I crossed the finish line on April 15, I received at least two other things prior to my medal—a bottle of water and a heat blanket.  It was interested because my Sunday School 3rd graders six days later asked why anyone would want a blanket.  Well, after running 26.2 miles and sweating a lot and then stopping and feeling a cold breeze, you might be surprised to know just how important that blanket us.   It is also hard to describe to third graders how the blanket is sort of like aluminum foil (but not exactly) that a runner wraps around himself or herself after the race.  It makes a big difference in at least some races and the race on April 15 was one time.  I know that it made a difference as it helped me to feel more stable and then there was the volunteer who asked if I was feeling okay and I answered her by saying just a bit cold.  That was an unusual response for me in my five post-marathon experiences but it was absolutely accurate.  And since it was before the post-race and post-explosion adrenalin kicked in, I really was focused just on how my body felt at the time.

The third thing I received on what still seemed like a glorious afternoon at the time was my Boston Marathon 2013 finishers medal.  The water was important.  Despite finishing all the water I had carried with me (and I did actually carry the water with me for this marathon which was different than an of the previous four in which I’d relied entirely on water stops) and drinking even more, I was still in need of water.  It felt good going down.  The heat blanket was important for reasons described above.  The food (which came after the medal) was also incredibly important as I’d taken my gooey nutritional bite sized snacks but I had not had anything else since very early that morning.

However, it was not any of those other than the medal that mattered most.  I had my Boston Marathon finishers medal.  I have other mementoes of that day.  I have my 2013 Boston Marathon program.  (I didn’t see or hear anyone shouting “Programs!  Get your programs here!”  But the image of that happening was quite amusing.)  I have my Boston Marathon jacket.  It is blue and yellow with numerous Boston Marathon symbols on it.  Many people even outside the running community know what it is and have asked me about it when I have worn it since then.  And within the running community it shows that I am a member of a relatively small fraternity of individuals who have qualified for and gone to Boston—the reference to a fraternity is how one of my companions for the weekend described it although I never was and never really had any desire to be part of a fraternity when I was in college.  It doesn’t signify only qualification.  It signifies going and at least attending the expo.  I also acquired a nice ring that doesn’t signify anything other than the fact that I purchased it but I do like it and my wife commented that it is sort of like a Super Bowl ring for runners.  That analog only goes so far as to get a Super Bowl ring you have to win.

The medal is actually a bit more like a Super Bowl ring, although unlike a ring a runner does not wear the Boston Marathon finisher’s medal every day after the race.  It is also like the Super Bowl ring only in limited ways since everyone who completes the race gets a ring rather than only the winners.  Yet, it is the ultimate symbols of accomplishment.  You do not earn that until you have qualified, registered, come, and run.  And only when you are finished and have proven that you can make it through the challenging course do you actually receive the medal.

I had the medal placed around my neck and wore it as we were on the way back to the hotel.  I think that one of the main issues I have worked through with the bombing that day was feeling that my opportunity just to enjoy the experience and, if you will, “bask in my accomplishment” was taken away from me.  Given the explosions, the injuries, and the deaths, even by the time I returned home that night the medal was no different but its meaning was diminished.  I brought it to work and put it where people who walk to a particular part of my office can see it but did not choose to highlight it beyond that.  I am not ashamed of the medal, but the desire to call any type of attention to it was completely reduced or even removed.

It went from being something that I was overjoyed to receive.  Something that I took pride in.  Something that I might even have wanted to show off a bit.  To instead being something that is important to me but that I really wanted to keep much more to myself.  Yes, I did it.  But that is all. 

It became a simple statement of fact rather than a big deal. 

I have certainly spoken of the race in glowing terms to some people in the time since.  But it is only when asked.

The nature of the experience changed from something that I thought I would want to share with anyone who would bother to listen to something that I only share when asked and even then only in very guarded terms.

One of the biggest accomplishments of my life outside career and family suddenly and the easiest way to show other than I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish suddenly became something that I chose to not focus on and not share.

Avoiding being a braggart about it—good thing of course.  Avoiding sharing unless asked—may or may not be good.   I like to think that my story is at least somewhat inspirational.  I like to think that other runners who may aspire to run Boston some day could benefit from hearing how exciting it is.  How wonderful it is.  How well organized it is.  But instead, I speak of it only in hushed tones. 

It is interesting to see how I let external events shape my life and my attitudes toward things.  Moving ahead, one key will be to live my life, experience my attitudes, and share my ideas with others on my own terms.  Following social norms as appropriate. But not letting external events over which I have no control get to me and have an undue influence on how I behave.