Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Do You Know What I Mean?

One of the most notable things about the wait at the school at Hopkinton was that one of the friends with whom I traveled brought a tarp.  This is not a rookie thing to do.  But it is something that experienced Boston marathon runners will often do.  The tarp is cheap but big enough for however many people to sit on rather than sitting on the damp grass first thing in the morning.  And the tarp is small enough to be stuffed inside one’s race bag if necessary when done.

Where we set our tarp down was near a sign on the field that proclaimed “Welcome to Hopkinton.  It all starts here.”  And we were also near a screen with some video (including text messages that were coming in—a sign of the times) and an announcer. 

The announcer had about 10-15 minutes of material that he pretty much kept repeating.  It was all well intentioned. It was useful information—the first time I heard it.  Thinking back, I know he was announcing some of the things that were available that morning.  Runners could get free pre-race massages.  Runners could listen to a sports psychologist talk about how to run a great Boston Marathon.  (All of this between my arrival at 7 and needing to get to the starting line by 10.)  And one of the most commonly repeated refrains being that there was an official photographer from the company that was handling pictures that could be purchased taking pictures by the sign about Hopkinton.  Every time the announcer talked about the photographer he was quick to add that when runners were in line they should be ready to step up when their turn came up and they should be ready to show their number since that was how the pictures would be provided to the right people.  Finally, he commented multiple times on how all this needed to be done quickly.  Given the number of runners, if all 27,000 registrants showed up and wanted their pictures taken and even if each took only 30 seconds, that would be 13,500 minutes.  Since there are only 1,440 minutes in a day, it was simple enough to do the math and recognize that I would take several days.  The announcer used multiple ways of describing the situation but made it clear that we would all be there until several days later (sometimes he talked about Friday or next week) and the race would be over and that would be less than ideal.  And at the end of every time that he made this statement he would say “You know what I mean?” 

I didn’t count the number of times that I heard “You know what I mean?” that morning, but it seemed like it must have been at least dozens and it may have been over 100.  At the end of every “paragraph” of his speaking he used exactly the same phrase.

So, as I think about my reaction to the situation that began at 2:50 PM on that afternoon—long after the last time I heard the announcer at the field ask “You know what I mean?”—I think about how I have processed it.  As I have mentioned several times in this cycle of writing and trying to let go, I have noted my understanding or lack of understanding (I suppose in this context knowing or not knowing) what was meant by this experience. 

What did the attackers mean?  How rational were they?  What was their rationale?  Did they have a clear rationale or not?  They meant harm.  Clearly.  What else did they mean?  Did they mean to slow an entire city down for a day—almost a week?  Did they mean to inspire terror or fear?  Was it a political statement?  I still don’t think that if one of them were to ask, “Do you know what I mean?” that much of anyone would be able to answer the question with anything other than the reply, “To cause chaos.”  And, if that were their only intention, they were incredibly successful.

I also think about what the event meant.  I wrote in my first post-marathon entry about a sense of needing to life live to the fullest.  But is that all that it meant?  Some have noted the “There but for the grace of God go I” feeling that comes from an experience like that one.  In a conversation with one colleague when I made reference to the fact that I figured he could imagine what I was feeling, he informed me quite plainly that he could not and that he had no idea.  So, he would answer to me, “No, I don’t know what you mean.”

And then there is life outside of running, and trying to figure out if people know what I mean and if I know what other people mean.  Personal relationships.  Do my wife and kids know what I mean?  What I hope?  What I aspire to in my new job?  What I think will happen in the long run after a transition period?  And do I, in turn, hear them and know what they mean about certain issues?

For people with whom I work now, do they know what I mean and do I know what they mean?  And how does our relative position impose upon each relationship a need to understand what is meant in either direction.  I just read something on this evening’s flight that said that sometimes in a workplace setting that something has to be said seven times before people get it. 

Circling back to the field at the school at Hopkinton, I suppose after hearing the message about available services, getting a photograph taken, and getting to the starting line each dozens of times, that is why I knew what the announcer meant.  Spiraling around one final time to the inauspicious events of April 15 (other than having to pay taxes), I am not sure that one apparently loosely organized terror incident with a response that was effective but for which some have questioned the implications for civil liberties, we still don’t necessarily know what the attackers meant or what it means to our society.  For that, I hope we don’t need six more events to find out.  I fear what seven of these events would mean to our society.  

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