Sacred Redefined: My Takeaway from the 2013 Boston Marathon
I wrote this out of necessity more than anything. Last night as I lay in bed unable to sleep, I was motivated by a friend (Tom Chew, @chewtr on Twitter) to use writing as a means to sort through some of what was keeping me awake, chiefly the question “is nothing sacred?” It’s not all of my thoughts, but it’s where my mind was at 2:00am on 4/16/2013, while my heart was and is with everyone touched by the tragic events of yesterday.
Two whole minutes – a lifetime in today’s technological world of “give it to me now.” I had to scroll through the results regurgitated by the almighty Google algorithms for two whole minutes before finding a definition for “sacred” with which I agreed given my use of the word today. Unwilling to accept the fact that I was probably using it incorrectly all day, I sought an explanation of the word that disregarded religion entirely. In a cruel twist of irony, it could end up that the events today at the Boston Marathon will be found to have had their genesis in religion, meaning they remained sacred, but only in a very sinister sense. That’s an entirely different topic for another day (or never – yeah, let’s just never talk about it).
The “sacred” adjective as I and many of my peers invoked it on this tragic day was intended to mean “uninjured, healthy, entire, complete.” If you asked me this morning, these secondary synonyms buried in the footnotes of Merriam-Webster’s crowded pages would each be perfect for the most famous Marathon in the world, from which many charities benefit, and which seemed to send a life force of positive energy pulsing through the City of Boston today until about ten of three o’clock. Accompanied by the first sputtering, cooing breaths of a new spring and the reappearance of sunshine after what seemed like a year, an unquantifiable blanket of calm lay over the city throughout my morning commute. Was I ignorant to feel this way? I’m afraid that I’ll miss the ignorance, if so.
It seems as I grow older, I find out that fewer and fewer things are as sacred as I once chose to believe. Some are more easily applied as learning devices, like the passing of our first family pet. It’s then that we’re introduced to the concept of death and the fragility and temporary state of life on earth. Some lessons are a bit harder to place, and immeasurably sad, like watching the towers fall on television in a 9th grade Global Studies classroom while your teacher explains the meaning of terrorism months ahead of his lesson plans. These take the family pet example a step further, teaching us that life isn’t always fair, and it doesn’t always make sense. And that the confluence of these two truths is sometimes unimaginably tragic. There remains no “good” explanation, but somehow the glimmer of youthful ignorance endured, perhaps due to a manufactured feeling of security, our mortal bodies shielded from the terror by a television screen and several hundred miles.
Then, a person descended on Boylston Street in downtown Boston today, someone who doesn’t think like us, who doesn’t feel enough to hold certain fragile things in their vice-like grips. Less than a half-mile from my doorstep, their perversely purposeful gait carried them across the same stone walkway we point out to visiting friends when we pretend to be experts in colonial architecture. Today, we were forced to look directly into the eyes of that which we knew to be true but were not willing to consciously accept: the idea that nothing is sacred. If we’re speaking in absolutes, it is impossible (and becoming increasingly so, it would seem) for something to be pure, completely clean of the ugly that the world insists on sprinkling over life’s joys from time to time. An asterisk will accompany this date, just like too many senseless tragedies dotting the landscape of American History and confusing the shit out of most of us.
If I may, though, I think this potentially crippling idea has led me to the realization that things can become somehow more sacred to us after we are confronted with such darkness. The runner who was stopped a mile short of achieving the goal of finishing the Boston Marathon, an amazing triumph, will likely appreciate more deeply that ultimate sense of accomplishment upon finishing her next race. She’ll look back and see that though there are impediments and obstacles lurking every day, even where we least expect them, there is no defense for an overwhelming majority who generally enjoy and engender positivity and light.
And I’ll step out my front door tomorrow morning and see that the sun has come out in Boston, and each incredibly fortunate footfall along the cobblestone path to the train station will be sacred (*).