Today is my birthday.
It’s also the anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007.
This week marks the anniversaries of Waco, Columbine and Oklahoma City, all of which I very clearly remember watching unfold.
And now Boston.
Since 2007 in particular, I have deliberately avoided media on my birthday. I don’t want to spend it filled with teary reminders of tragedy and horror and ways the world will never be the same. I don’t want to corrupt the light and airy joy of a newfound spring with the weight and sorrow of manmade hells. I spend every day immersed in the world’s troubles; I want one day’s rest, and I have demanded that it be April 16th since the day six years ago when 32 college students died.
But it seems the universe refuses to comply with that demand. It seems this day is not just about me. From the moment I logged into Facebook to read well wishes from friends, I was barraged with images from Boston and Virginia Tech. I cannot avoid the world and its troubles today.
When I saw the horror begin in Boston, I desperately wanted it to have been a terrible accident. I wanted it to have been a couple of propane tanks, or a gas line… something unintended. Somehow that would have taken so much of the pain out of the injuries, so much of the heartbreak out of the deaths. But as I kept close watch over the developments, it felt more and more like what it was. And I felt less and less like someone who has any say at all in how life unfolds.
I thought of Jack. I have a ridiculous number of marathon-running friends, and I knew Jack wasn’t in Boston yesterday; he ran it in 2002 and he never runs the same marathon twice. But I knew he and my other runner friends would be wrenched by what had happened. I checked to make sure none of them were at the race; they weren’t. I thought about the two marathons I went to with Jack, the one where we spent three hours in the medical tent after he crossed the finish line because what started out as stubbornly tight calves turned into debilitating dehydration-related cramps that signaled the danger of a heart attack. I thought about what it might have been like as he lay dazed, pained, shaking and high on valium, if a sudden stream of terribly bloodied and limbless runners arrived. And kept arriving. And just kept arriving.
Though I have cut off contact with Jack, I did access the one thing I know is available in case I wonder if he’s alive: his Twitter account for work. He had posted a link to a blog post he had written on his company’s website – something he does from time to time. Jack is a beautiful writer, and before I knew it, I was reading what he had written.
I wondered last night if I could put together a blog post on Boston, and pretty quickly dismissed it. One of the saddest things about it is that there seems to be nothing left to say. There have been too many Bostons. I have used up all my words.
There are already many images of Boston that I can instantly recall without aid of internet or television. But I’m grateful for the one that I seem to see most often in my mind. It is the image of people running into the blast zone, seconds after the explosions erupted, to help whoever was hurt. Not all of them were emergency workers. Not all of them were event staff. Some of them were just runners, runners’ friends or fans, Bostonians in the area for what the city commonly calls The Best Day.
No matter how much the darkness seeks to shroud April, human nature tends toward the sun.
On my birthday, perhaps I am blessed to be reminded that, in the wake of too many tragedies, there have been so many glimmers of light.
The sun is coming through the clouds now. And I am going to go for a walk in the park, to see the new buds on the trees, the daffodils in bloom, the children at play.
To greet the tender spring.