Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Finish Line

One by one, I’ll face the tasks before me and complete them as best I can. Focusing on each stride forward but at the same time taking the long range view, scanning the scenery as best I can. I am, after all, a long-distance runner.
Haruki Murakami
My fingers have been frozen above the keyboard this past week; frozen like a diver on a board who has just realized there is no water in the pool below. For isn’t part of the writer’s task to make sense of the senseless, to turn meaningless babble into meaningful words when no one else can?

And isn’t the task of the runner to cross the finish line?

As always the questions: How could this happen? How could anyone target innocent people, athletes, spectators, children? Who would do such a thing?
And as always, it is next to impossible to put all the thoughts into a coherent pattern:

That there are people who hate. That hatred has the ability to warp and pervert vision until somehow it becomes somehow justifiable to kill and maim children. That there always will be such people.
Anyone who has ever finished a marathon or an Ironman knows that it is the wave of positive energy from the cheering crowd that helps us surf across the line, smiling and energized. At the finish line in Boston, it was the spectators who felt the full force of the blast. To a certain degree, the bodies of the crowds at the finish shielded the bodies of the runners.

The coarsest violence four hours and nine minutes after the start of the 2013 Boston Marathon was not against those athletes approaching the finish line, but against those men, women and children who had come to cheer for fathers, mothers, loved ones, or friends. On April 15, when death unkindly stopped for them, we need to know that it was that great crowd of well-wishers, not the haters, who inherited the real power.

When we begin to run a race, we have no idea what we will encounter along the way. Aside from the fact that someone has told us that there is a finish line somewhere down the road, we have no idea when we start what we will face before we get there. The task is simply to run, and thereby to strike some kind of bargain between body and soul; a bargain to make forward progress under our own power until we reach the end.
One thing is sure: one way or the other we will all reach the finish line one day. So what do we do about the unknown future that awaits us there? How does this uncertainty affect our task to run towards the line?

It doesn't.

We keep running; we run with endurance, with intention, and with heart. Because we need to do it and because performing the task set before us makes us feel more alive than many can believe possible. Because we cherish it, as we cherish those who support and encourage us.
When I found myself out of words to write this week, I turned, as I sometimes do, to Haruki Murakami's simple, elegant memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In his postscript, Murakami mentions that his title is adapted from the title of a short story collection by the great Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
And I realized that, to a runner, they are the same thing.