Monday, driving to work, I found myself stopped at a red light, studying the bumper stickers on the car in front of me. One showed a silhouette of a lady runner, ponytail streaming out behind her. Next to it, a simple oval contained a number: 26.2. I had no way of knowing that by the end of the day, those two images would be able to make me weep.
It is hard to know how to respond when something as innocent and joyful as a marathon ends in carnage. The stories were wrenching: witnesses telling of men and women who had just finished the race, only to find that those would be the last steps they would ever take on flesh and bone. I was glad they had, at least, finished, so that their last steps would be ones of triumph.
We know so little, as of yet. Who the dead were, what paths led them to Boston that day. How they had struggled, in order to attain the victory of running the race.
Who did this, out of what sad motivation. Where they came from, how they came to be so broken. I grieve for them, as well as for the lost and the injured. Somewhere, somehow, their lives, too, must have been shattered.
Tuesday morning, when I went out to walk my dogs, the streets around my apartment were full of runners. Not the three or so I usually see that time of day, but ten or twenty or thirty, as if every runner in this part of town had decided to turn out, to use their bodies while they had them, to honor with their own steps the steps that those who lost their limbs or their lives will not take again.
It reminded me of my Confirmation service, which took place in the church of St. Thomas in West Hollywood, California. St. Thomas’ is an overwhelmingly gay church, located in a part of town that is home to a large and vibrant community of lesbians and gays. The walls of the church are lined to shoulder height with plaques bearing the names of men who died too young: all the church members who had fallen to AIDS. But within those walls, the church was packed with two hundred confirmands and the people who loved them — men, women, and children; black, white, and brown; speaking English, Spanish, Korean, and, probably, a host of other languages; God pouring new life into the church between the memorials of the dead. It was as powerful an image of resurrection as I have ever seen; it showed me the love of God.
At a dark hour, Winston Churchill addressed the people of England, saying “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
God does not yield either.