One of the best parts of living somewhere 12 hours ahead is waking up in the morning and scrolling through my facebook feed to see what my friends in America did yesterday.
Today was not a good morning.
Last night, as I went to bed, I saw pictures of friends from my running group as they were preparing to run the Boston Marathon, the country’s oldest and most iconic race. People train hard for years to qualify for Boston. Even if we know we’ll never qualify, we still think about the possibility (if I had a great day…; If I could lose 15 pounds..; If I can still run this fast when I’m 70…). We know random facts about a race course we have never seen (10 AM start in Hopkinton; Newton Hills between miles 19 and 26). Based on my age and gender, I would have to run a 3:35 marathon to qualify. That will never happen, but for my friends who are just a little faster and a lot more competitive, it’s within the realm of possibility. This morning, I was excited to wake up and see how they had done in yesterdays race.
And, of course, the first thing I saw was the terrible news of 2 bombs at the finish line.
For some reason, when people hear about a senseless act of violence, we want to find a connection to our own lives. Maybe it’s human compassion, maybe it’s voyeurism, but we want to take someone else’s tragedy and make it our own. We update our facebook status, we tweet: We are all Virginia Tech; Praying for Sandy Hook families; Those could have been my friends; That could have been my child. We want to be part of it, and somehow we feel like we are.
People here in Indonesia feel the same way, and often, I am their connection. For many of my students and colleagues, I am the only American they know well, or even the only American they have ever met. When a tragedy occurs in the States, they often seek me out. “We are sorry to hear the news,” they say. “Are your family and friends okay?” Usually, my family and friends are hundreds of miles away – many Indonesians don’t know New York from New Mexico. I let this slide since many Americans don’t know that Sumatra and Java are more than coffees at Starbucks. But, by being able to connect with me, an actual American, they feel a connection with the tragedy, and they have a conduit for their condolences.
Of course today, some of my friends were there, had passed the exact bombing site only minutes before. And even more of my friends felt like they were there. People come to run Boston from all over the country. I would bet that any distance runner in the US who runs with a group knows at least one runner in Boston today, and immediately thought of that friend. Actually, many of them had already been thinking of those friends all morning as they ran the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square, mentally sending luck and encouragement. We think about them going to the expo while we are doing our own long run Saturday morning. We see Facebook pictures of them having their pre-run pasta on Sunday night. We post good luck comments on the picture of them on the bus that morning. We follow their progress online. A little bit of us is there too. So when we imagine their finish line excitement and triumph turning into tragedy, we feel that, too.
I feel a little bit sheepish saying this about something as secular as a foot race, but there is something sacred about the finish line. I always cry as I cross. I’m not sure if that is because I’m proud of my accomplishment, overcome with endorphins, or just happy I don’t have to run anymore. The feeling of finishing a marathon is an incredible peak experience. You think back to the long months of training, to the runs in the snow and the rain and the sunshine. You think about other things in your life you are proud of and of what you still have to accomplish. You think about all the people that supported you, all the people who love you, and all the people that you love. It’s a thin place, a place where you are more connected to the fundamental magic of the universe. To have that feeling changed to fear and tragedy in one second is unpardonable.
Living in Indonesia, among a Muslim society, there is a phrase I have come to love: Alhamdulillah. It’s roughly translated as “Praise be to God,” but that doesn’t have the same ring to me. Muslims continue to recite the Koran in the original Arabic because of the power and the beauty of that language, and that may be why Alhamdullilah just seems more powerful than “Thank God” or “Praise Jesus.” So that’s what came to my mind.
When I read the e-mail from Marathoners in Training (MIT), my running group in Columbus, saying that all the runners from our group were safe.
When I saw my friend Katie’s facebook status: Just wanted to let you know that I’m okay
When I thought about my friend Debbie, who has tried for years to qualify and missed it last year by a maddening 26 seconds.
I know that many people think of Islam when they think of terrorism, and that is a sad and unfortunate connection. But after two years of living in a Muslim society, among some of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever met, I do too – as a source of comfort.