The unthinkable has happened. I’m rooting for Boston.
I’ve always loved the city. It’s the sports teams I can’t stand. The Bruins were my sister’s team growing up, so they were caught in the middle of our sibling rivalry. The Red Sox and Patriots were the perennial losers of my youth. I could legally buy a beer in America well before either of those teams gave me a reason to support them. I just don’t care about professional basketball enough to root for any team, more or less the Celtics.
For much of my grad school days, Boston was my point of entry into the USA. Fredericton had a twice daily Delta flight to Logan airport and, between the early departure and the time zone difference, the morning flight would get me there early enough I was often the first person to go through US customs and immigration. My international student friends will understand how much easier it is to go through customs when there’s only a couple of people behind you and not two dozen plane loads.
The connection flight to Washington would be a few hours later, so I was rarely in a rush and could actually enjoy the airport. The staff was always amongst the friendliest airport staff I have ever encountered. Returning from a semester in the District, the Boston accent was the surest sign that home was near. Logan’s only flaw: the flights to Atlantic Canada flew out of the domestic terminal, and not the international terminal, so no duty free booze and stogies for me.
I’m from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick so the connection to Boston runs deep. The first major influx of Anglophone settlers the Maritimes were Loyalists from New England. Following the Halifax Explosion in 1917, workers from Boston came to the city of my birth to help with relief efforts. To this day, almost a century later, Nova Scotia sends a Christmas tree to Boston as a gesture of gratitude. Before “going down the road” meant traveling to Ontario and Alberta looking for work, it meant going to the “Boston States”.
Watching the news break live with what happened at the Boston Marathon reminded me of how I felt when I would hear that a soldier had died during our Afghanistan mission. I have many friends in the Canadian Army, and it seemed at least one would be deployed at any particular point. My guts would wrench for hours, even days, until I found out they were safe. Relief was momentary. While my friend was safe, someone else’s friend, maybe one of my neighbours, was gone.
That’s pretty much what it was like on Monday. As one friend after another checked in via Facebook and Twitter to tell us they were okay, the thoughts turned to those who were not okay. One hundred seventy-five injured. Three dead. One of them was an eight year old. That’s a year younger than my nephew.
Hey, Mr. Badass mass murderer, what the fuck did an eight year old ever do to you?
As you can tell, sometimes when the sadness passes, it’s replaced by anger and outrage.
Shadows and darkness only exist because of light. A shadow tried to cast itself over Boston, but the lights drove it back. The lights were the runners that crossed the finish line and kept running to the hospital to donate blood or the ones in the recovery area that helped. The lights were the first responders and volunteers on the scene. The lights were the bystanders and spectators there to watch who stayed to help the injured around them. The light was Boston Cowboy. The lights were people who saw the danger and ran toward it. Random people sucked back their fear and summoned the courage to help.
I used to be one of those people. In what seems like a lifetime ago, I volunteered to cover many a sporting event in Fredericton with St. John Ambulance. I understand how much time volunteers sacrifice to get the training required to keep us safe on race day. Many days and nights were spent in hockey rinks, in school gyms, and along roadsides treating sports related injuries. When you’re in those courses, you think you’ll never be able to remember “all that stuff”. You practice and practice and when you’re called to the scene, the training takes over and you do what is needed.
It’s often a thankless task. There’s no money in it. I’ve worked on events where organizers publicly thanked the wrong organization. You sit back and take it because you believe in service for its own sake.
Now, as the person participating in the event, I’ve seen the volunteers at work for us. Thankfully, I haven’t required their medical services on race day … yet. I have seen them form a phalanx around an injured runner so the first aiders could safely treat them and remove them from the course. The water and cheer stations? All volunteers.
Marathons can only exist because communities support them. There are a lot of road races in Ottawa. Many of these require road closures. In the case of Ottawa Race Weekend, a 42.2 km course that runs through two cities in two separate provinces requires a lot of road closures. I learned this hard way after Christian’s first half marathon. The plan was to gather at the Greek Souvlaki House (since closed) on the corner of Prince of Wales and Riverside. From my apartment on Slater St, the drive would normally take 15 minutes. That day it took 90.
If our communities didn’t have patience and tolerance, we wouldn’t be able to have races. If the community stayed home on race day and didn’t come out to cheer on perfect strangers, it would be a pretty lonely, miserable race. The race itself can be a lonely experience. Any runner will tell you, if not for the strangers who show up to shout words of encouragement to random runners, they might have quit. It just wouldn’t be the same without seeing signs like “Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon”, “My Mascara Runs Faster Than You”, and “Worst. Parade. Ever”.
I’ll be keeping up my training for this year’s Ottawa Marathon. I’m not going to resort to clichés like, “If I don’t run, the terrorist wins.” I just refuse to live in fear of the unknown. I have lived and worked in two national capitals. When I decided to take up grad studies in Washington, DC, it still had the highest homicide rate in the United States. I still went. Not going to lie. There were a few close calls. I was working on Parliament Hill when the Toronto 18 were arrested. Their plan was to storm the Hill, behead the PM, and hold the House of Commons hostage until we left Afghanistan, gave Israel back to the Palestinians, and made Yahoo the default search browser on Internet Explorer.
By virtue of the fact I work in the same building as the Prime Minister, there’s an element of risk involved in my job. I accept that. Parliament belongs to the people, not the politicians. They just work here. To maintain access to the Hill for our citizens, we have to trade off a bit of our security. Everyone here accepts that. We are not ignorant of the danger. We just don’t let it keep us from doing our jobs.
I know from this experience what race organizers around the world are now going through. How do you adequately secure a 42.2 course through a city? Unfortunately, the answer is not much. There are probably improvements that can be made to any race course, but these are public streets we run on. We need the public to come out to cheer us on. We need them to feel safe to come out, but at the same time not scare them away with the very measures that were put in place to make them feel safe.
Security can’t be everywhere at once. Even in a police state, crime happens. Citizens need to be vigilant. Don’t be afraid to report that mysterious backpack by the garbage can to the authorities.
Any place where the public gather is a potential target. We can live in fear or we can just live. I know what those who have been taken from us would want us to do.