A personal Boston Marathon story
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Running Boston is the dream of every long distance runner and I was lucky enough to get a bib number last year for the 117th Boston Marathon. I flew home to Providence with my best friend, Colleen, for the weekend. My two sisters, Grace and Molly, and my mom also met me there to be my support team.
At Saturday evening Mass two days before the race, my priest at home delivered a homily about love. He emphasized the distinction between love and agape love. He described agape love as “being willing to sacrifice your life for someone else.” Agape love is completely voluntary and unconditional in the truest sense of the word. As I sat in Mass two days before the Boston Marathon, unaware of the situation I would soon experience, I looked down the pew. I saw my mom, my dad, my two sisters and my best friend. As I looked at each of them, I could honestly say that I loved them in such a way that I would be willing to give my life for them. I never imagined that less than 48 hours later, what seemed to be a purely hypothetical situation would become more real to me than ever before.
When I got to the start line, the whole atmosphere was surreal. I was excited, anxious and a little nervous. I had trained well and I finished the marathon in three hours and 31 minutes, just at my goal time. I could not stop smiling. I enjoyed every mile; they weren’t all easy — especially the last few — but every one was worth it. There’s something about accomplishing a feat that wipes your memory of the pain associated with it and, instead, joy overwhelms it, leaving the lasting impression.
I found my mom, Molly, Grace and Colleen a few minutes after I finished and was bombarded with hugs and pictures. Their love and pride was tangible, and I can’t describe the elation and happiness shared between all five of us.
After basking in celebration, I got in the car with my mom and Molly to go home. Grace and Colleen walked to their car, just about a block from the finish line. We were already on the highway when we got a call from Grace. She explained that they were all rright, but they had run as far away as they could from Copley Square where they heard and felt two big explosions. They were looking for a safe place to wait until we could pick them up. She was trying to remain calm, but I could hear her voice falter and waver as she spoke. I let my head drop into my lap and I began to shake. I was scared; I was scared because my big sister was scared. I was scared because two of the people I love most were in a dangerous place.
My body was so exhausted from running that when I started to cry, I couldn’t stop. My mom tried to console me. She kept saying, “It’s okay. They are okay. We are going to get them.” I let her say it a few times before I was finally able to get out, “Yes, but someone else isn’t.”
I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to the “what if’s.” I knew that there was no point in going through them, but I couldn’t help it. The biggest hypothetical that I couldn’t shake was the possibility of Grace and Colleen being among the victims who suffered injury, or even worse, death. I don’t think a day of my life would ever be the same if anything had happened to them. I couldn’t help but feel anger, as well. It was selfish, but this was my day. This was supposed to be a day about my accomplishment and the culmination of all the blood, sweat and tears I had endured. I was supposed to be celebrating with my family and friends, but instead, it was a tragic day in which three people lost their lives, hundreds were injured and thousands were emotionally scarred.
When we picked up Grace and Colleen, instead of sighing with relief, I just sobbed harder. I was sobbing because I was relieved, but I couldn’t stop. We made it home and I fell apart again when I saw my dad. When I looked around, I saw five different people than I had seen in the pew at church two days earlier. Over the course of the day, I had felt feelings I had never had before, but the strongest feeling between the six of us was that of agape love.
I recently read a reflection on agape love by Dr. Chris Anthony in “Catholic Online.” Dr. Anthony speaks of God’s agape love — love that is “divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volatile and thoughtful” — in the context of Holy Week. He calls to our attention the act of humility and love of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the ultimate sacrifice of death on the cross on Good Friday. Jesus embodies the definition of agape love.
When I crossed the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston, I was received by four of the most important people in my life, people for whom I would give up my life and who I know would do the same for me. I was given the opportunity to discover just how deep, involuntary and unconditional my love was and others’ love was for me.
As we celebrate the Easter season and reflect on the Triduum, we see the most obvious display of agape love when Jesus dies on the cross for us. As we remember the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, we grieve for those who suffered death, physical injury and emotional harm. But as John reminds us in his gospel, “Light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.” Powered by this light, let us strive to show agape love to all those around us.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.