Boston carnage provides another sickening milepost for today's kids

KENSHIN OKUBO / DAILY FREE PRESS Marathon spectators react to Monday's explosions in Boston.
KENSHIN OKUBO / DAILY FREE PRESS Marathon spectators react to Monday's explosions in Boston.
Posted: April 17, 2013

THE 1996 ATLANTA Olympic Park bombing. The World Trade Center massacre. The London subway bombing. The stabbing death of a U.S. citizen during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Newtown.

Three dead and, at last count, more than 140 injured in Monday's bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

That's our world. These are timelines my three children will use to mark their ascent into adulthood, just as the deaths of JFK, RFK and MLK, and the attempted assassinations of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan marked mine.

Somewhere along the line, our enemies and those who just like to see the world burn figured out it was easier and more damaging to assassinate our free world rather than to take out the leaders of it. Sons, daughters, wives, children - one of Monday's fatalities apparently was 8 years old - are now the disposable pieces of a war waged through planes, trains and, yes, explosive backpacks.

I was told Monday that New York City seals its manholes and replaces garbage cans with plastic bags every New Year's Eve. There will be lots of talk in the coming days about not letting the terrorists win, but, really, who are we kidding?

We strip down at airports, avoid entire regions and, of course, seal our manhole covers. Even our internal arguments over gun control these days devolve quickly into a vitriolic uncivil war, each side accusing the other of undermining freedoms.

Freedoms? Honestly? Let's see if marathon entries are down next year in Boston, or even a few weeks from now when they hold the Broad Street Run. Let's see if sponsorships drop as security around these events restrict the open-air, festival atmosphere that has made them so much fun.

Boston is their granddaddy, of course. It's the running world's equivalent of Cooperstown. The running boom back in the early 1980s, of which I was a part, was fueled by the history and romance surrounding this race. Heartbreak Hill, Joan Benoit, the legendary battle to the finish line between Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar in the 1982 race - these were this race's indelible stamps.

That, and the runners from all over the world running alongside the runners from next door, running to break a record or make an Olympic team, running to beat a disease or simply to beat down their own self-doubt. There are a lot of marathons now that fit this description. Boston was the first.

Running is about freedom. Freedom from self-made restraints. You never lose the feeling of finishing your first marathon, especially when it takes more than four hours to do it. It requires all kinds of single-minded sacrifice just to attempt it.

Relationships are put on hold, nagging injuries are often ignored, hours and hours of lonely training are required, sometimes in weather so brutal it can feel like you are running in place.

It's all worth it at that moment, though, when you see the finish line and hear the cheers and see the friends and family who sacrificed right along with you.

Perhaps you ran for a cause that hit close to home - cancer, AIDS, poverty. Perhaps you were simply making a point to your doubting alter ego. Whatever baggage you carry, it empties onto Boylston Street or whatever street you are on when you run under that timer.

The finish line serves as a cleansing of sorts, a euphoric affirmation that you can indeed control your own destiny.

That's not what the finish line looked like Monday. The bombs went off at 2:50 p.m. The race clock said 4 hours, 9 minutes and 43 seconds. They are significant numbers, because four hours is the line that separates real runners from the ham-and-eggers who make this as much a festival as a race.

The largest percentage of runners habitually finish after four hours, and they are thus greeted by the day's largest cheering section. Monday's unseasonably swell weather only swelled that crowd.

It will be a different feel for life for Monday's first-timers. And for the brave first-timers who follow them at the Boston Marathon next year, too.

Really, it's hard to imagine any runners, even those with 300 or more marathons under their belt, approaching a finish line ever again without at least some trepidation, and significant anxiety.

On top of that, it's hard to imagine any of us watching the finish of any race from this point on without conjuring up Monday's mind-numbing carnage.

By nightfall, the FBI and ATF guys had turned Copley Square into a crime scene. Soon we will learn the names of the dead, be told of dismembered runners and friends of runners, and our stomachs will churn all over again.

They will find who did this, as President Obama told us Monday night, and get justice. And they probably will.

But I can't help thinking about what it must be like to be a child these days, their timeline already crowded with the horrors of Monday and Newtown, facing down a future in which freedom becomes just another word for nothing left to lose.

DAILY NEWS MEMBERS ONLY: We ask in The Big Question: Will you now worry about attending major sporting events? Columnist John Smallwood will give his take Tuesday morning.

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