Back to Boston

Running a marathon is an undertaking of but a single dimension. At least that is how it appears to the non-marathoner: the runner places one foot in front of another and repeats that act 42,184 times. Inexplicable to many, perverse in fact. And in the course of the event the runner herself might feel the same: there is but one dimension which is distance. In physics we call this Space and it implies a further dimension which is Time. But we runners can quite forget time, becoming oblivious, entering a kind of fugue state. The corresponding sole dimension in the body is fatigue, a fatigue singularly profound in the lives of the modern first-worlder. And the moral or spiritual correlate is courage or the pursuit of courage.

 

In the course of the career of the continuing marathoner that analysis undergoes change. The change occurs by evolution or by revolution.

For some that revolution, that turning over, occurred at Boston in 2013. I ran Boston that day. I was among the thirty thousand on the course whose lives changed. We were outnumbered by the three million, the people of Boston who take us into their homes, who take us to their hearts, whose day of days is the third Monday in April, Patriots’ Day. Those people, acted like a polity wounded. The wound was psychic and social, a wound that was the denial of the hospitable self of Boston. On Patriots’ Day one million of the citizens of that small big city come out and stay out to watch their home event. They come out early and they stay late, cheering on not only the swift Kenyan but the aged Melbourne schlepper. To all they offer oranges, bananas, jelly snakes, beer, sausages, and Vaseline as groin balm.

The bombs went off and Boston exploded in grief and contrition. The world had come to celebrate the folly and the freedom of running too far; the world was their guest and abruptly the ceremony of innocence came to an end.

Too slow, too tardy, I missed the Finish Line explosions. Turned away by police at the top of Boylston Street I walked away through stunned and grieving Boston. Evening came on, the chill came down and Boston offered me the use of its i-phone, the gift of a jacket, the shelter of warm shops, the gentle pat on the shoulder. Bostonians wanted to drive me wherever I needed to go, then walked miles out of their way to conduct me to my family meeting place.

 

I flew home the next day.

 

Ever since Boston has sent me reports on its healing and rehabilitation. Most telling have been testimonies of the injured. One wrote of her amputation, her new prosthesis, her learning to walk and her completing the marathon the following year.

 

The research community of Boston has wasted no time in applying its collective brain to research into trauma and recovery. You can read some testimonies by clicking on this link.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/13/us/100000002820641.mobile.html

 

 

In October last year Boston wrote and invited me to run as a guest in the 2015 marathon. Having just recovered from injuries (self-inflicted!) I leapt into training. And I decided to support the Stepping Strong Team that raises money for research into trauma such as Boston experienced. My wife and my daughter are psychologists, both practising in the field of trauma. Between them they have nearly fifty years’ experience in a field that is as endless as human cruelty. I see the work they do and the need. I wrote on the subject in yesterday’s Age:

http://m.theage.com.au/national/when-a-helper-needs-help-20150328-1m646f.html

 

 

I want to raise $1000.00 for the Boston research. I’ve kicked it off with $180.00 of my own. Please read and consider: if you want to make a contribution you can do so at https://www.crowdrise.com/brighamwomensboston2015/fundraiser/pheidipidesgoldenber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Foul and Fair a Day

Howard at the Boston Marathon 2013

Howard at the Boston Marathon 2013

When I solicited funds as a charity runner in the 2013 Boston Marathon I promised to write a report on the race and my donors’ ‘investment.’ The moment the race started I started to compose my report. The mood was light, the crowd a united force of love, the events and sights all affirming a shared humanity. This would be a report of smiles. The serious counterpoint would be the 26.2 long miles.

At 2.07pm the mood changed. After that the playful response would feel profane. But I did promise a race report.

I slept on the matter. The evil was great and real, certainly. Real too was the goodness. Both demand to be written.

***

Does any runner sleep well the night before a marathon? I don’t. To prevent dehydration on race day I drink plenty through the previous day and every cupful demands its exit through the night. I am excited, nervous, a kid before his birthday party. Boston, after all, is to marathoners as Wimbledon is to tennis players. An enormous privilege, unearned by any effort of my legs, paid for in thousands of donated dollars.

The playful mind must be carried by legs that are 67 years old. Some prudence surfaces. The sixty-seven year old prepares methodically. The experience of forty past marathons insists I vaseline my second toes (which always blister), my armpits (which chafe), my nipples (which bleed) and my private bits (none of your business).
To prevent my shoelaces untying over the distance I double knot them: a trivial detail? No, not in Boston, for it was at the start line of one Boston Marathon back in the seventies that the favourite, noting his arch rival’s single-knotted shoes, bent down and double-tied them.

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Virgin from Christmas Island to the Mainland

A man walks into my consulting room with a bouncing limp. He is tall and upright. He bows slightly and shakes my hand. The familiar courtesies.

I greet him: Salaam Aleikhum.

He responds: Aleikhum Salaam.

We exchange names. His name is Ahmed. He says: “My foot is painful. Please excuse me. I am afraid I must remove my shoe.”

His problem is visible through an opening in his sandal: the left great toe is infected. The flesh of the nail bed is hot and red, a crescent of swollen skin surrounding a sunken island of nail. The skin is shiny, stretched to bursting. A promising eyelet of pus peeps from beneath a corner of the cuticle.

The infected nail bed is about to burst in a flow of laudable pus. The pus will stink, Ahmed will feel better and so will I. Finally, a patient telling me a straightforward story. Finally a patient I can cure.

I treat the infection, dress the toe and ask Ahmed to return tomorrow to renew his dressing.

“I cannot come tomorrow.” His manner is politely regretful. “I will leave here tonight.” He speaks softly, practicality competing with swelling happiness: “I have my visa.”

Ahmed’s smile is a field of waving daffodils.

As it happens I will fly out tonight too. After three weeks of seeing patients here, Ahmed is the only one I meet to win a visa. The remainder reside in trailer parks of hope and despair.

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