Saturday, April 20, 2013

Eags' Advice To Us All Makes Sense: Keep On Keepin' On To Our Own Finish Line

An excellent profile of sibling-terrorists who — it would seem — planted the two bombs at the finish line areas of the 2013 Boston Marathon is available here. Instead, today's blog-post features the positive response to the Boston Massacre II from Eags in his NY Fishwrap Op-Ed piece about the events that transfixed us all this week. "No Bonking" is a great watchword for these times. If this is a (fair & balanced) hope for sensible and sane response to the recent horror in Boston, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Finish Line
By Timothy Egan

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Most runners are familiar with the term “bonking,” when the body surrenders though the brain says otherwise. You can be Hercules riding an adrenal surge, but you cannot make muscles do what you want them to do in a bonk.

It looked like Bill Iffrig was in that very grip, 15 feet from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, when his legs went wobbly and he fell to the ground. The image of the retired carpenter on his back, the spring air smeared with smoke and the stink of terror, police scrambling around him, went around the world this week, a viral picture both despairing and inspirational.

Iffrig, two years shy of his 80th birthday, thought for an instant that “this is probably it for me,” but got back up, refused a wheelchair and took the last steps to the end of his latest 26.2 mile journey. He’d run nine-minute miles for much of the race. Then he walked another six blocks to his hotel.

In Iffrig’s life, as with a marathon that has endured a Great Depression, two world wars and the grievous wound of Sept. 11, there are only fresh starts, albeit with altered perspective.

What now in the days after the finish line from hell? More metal detectors in public places? More body searches of great-grandmas and toddlers in airport lines? Removing all garbage cans from common areas?

An initial response is to turn a free society inside out, ostensibly to prevent dismemberment of children and long-distance runners. This is followed by the inevitable proclamations of a “new normal,” rendering the old normal suspect.

Michael Hayden, the former C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush, was one of those who sensed a turn for the worse. “This, regrettably, if it does turn out to be Al Qaeda-based terrorism, might be the new normal,” he said. And Representative Peter King, the quick-to-panic New York Republican, saw a similar threat, telling CNN that “this may be the new war with Al Qaeda: smaller attacks with people who are under the radar screen.”

But it’s wrong and illusory to proclaim the start of a new anything — particularly a narrative that leads to more fear. Real-time, 24-hour news coverage prompts real-time, 24-hour anxiety, but it doesn’t have to lead to real-time, and flawed, 24-hour conclusions.

The urge to do something quickly, to put up barriers and screens and place SWAT teams at Little League games, is driven by other images from the finish line — those who did not get up and walk a few more steps. There was the boy from Dorchester, the young woman who could light up a room, the Chinese graduate student applauding runners from all over the world. If there is a political point ever to be made by packing BBs, nails and other lethal shrapnel into a device to kill people who do nothing but cheer runners on Patriot’s Day, it is a nihilistic one.

It’s worth remembering that, in a every era, we’ve seen this particular kind of mortal drama — the Haymarket bombing in Chicago of 1886, Timothy McVeigh’s incomprehensible slaughter of children and adults in Oklahoma City in 1995, a Unabomber and an Olympic Games bomber and on and on.

Short-term, the reactions to such tragedies, from a press ready to report every breathless rumor as breaking news to the digital pollution from conspiracy Twitterists, do not help. Long-term, the “fix” can be more lasting than the events themselves, from war to institutionalized suspicion.

Bill Clinton, the best mourner in chief in the modern media age, struck the right tone after the Oklahoma bombings, at the time the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. He quoted from a letter he’d received from a woman who’d lost her husband in another terrorist act. Said Clinton:

“The anger you feel is valid, but you must not allow yourselves to be consumed by it. The hurt you feel must not be allowed to turn into hate, but instead into the search for justice. The loss you feel must not paralyze your own lives. Instead, you must try to pay tribute to your loved ones by continuing to do all the things they left undone, thus ensuring that they did not die in vain.”

Security upgrades can be made, without wholesale downgrades to daily living. People can be more vigilant, can take some responsibility for the safety of all, without canceling life. Bill Iffrig, whom I expect to be back for his fourth Boston Marathon next year, didn’t bonk, nor should we.

“You will run again,” said President Obama in Boston Thursday.

In Iffrig’s spirit, let thousands make fresh plans to stride past Fenway Park in the last mile of the nation’s most storied footrace. Let young boys with gap-toothed smiles get a chance to see old men straining down Boylston Street yet again, to a finish line without end. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times Company

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