Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston and the Beauty of the Common Ground

I was just about to leave to take my daughter to her high school tennis match yesterday when I caught a Facebook post from a friend in Tampa:  "Oh, no!  What's happening in Boston?"

Oh, no.  Whatever it was, I knew it wasn't going to be good.  Part of me wanted to put my fingers in my ears (nah, nah, can't hear you), feign ignorance, head off to the match.  The other part of me turned on the TV.

Early reports were that six people had been injured, but that was clearly bogus, as I saw more than six in two minutes of video.  Video that showed dozens--literally dozens--of people rushing toward the sites of the blasts.  Women and men--I noted, interested in the shift, that there were more women than men--with vests that read, "B.A.A. Physician."  Burly men tearing apart the scaffolding lining the streets, in order to reach victims.  Completely normal looking people rushing down the street pushing empty wheelchairs in one direction, wheelchairs full of dazed, bleeding survivors the other.

Lots of people on Facebook are quoting Mr. Rogers:  "Look for the helpers.  There are always helpers."  It's certainly true.

At the tennis match I repeatedly checked my phone.  I have one friend who loves Boston and has run the marathon there several times, but she's sidelined this year following foot surgery.  My brother, who also loves to run, posted concern for a friend of his who was running, but after a couple of hours was able to report that his friend was fine.  Most people running, and most of the spectators, were fine:  20,000 people, who knows how many spectators.  And yet the reported casualties continued to rise:  22 hurt, no, 52, no, over 100; 2 dead, no, 3.

Meanwhile the tennis match continued under a beautifully clear spring sky.  I thought of the London Olympics.

I've tried to explain to people how beautiful they were.  Physically beautiful, yes: the athletes showed the full glory of what the human body can achieve.  The sites were prepared to perfection, and had been carefully chosen to show off some of England's most iconic venues.  There were flowers, clean streets, enormous screens set up in public parks so that anyone could watch the live feed for free.  But more than that, they were emotionally stirring in a way I didn't expect.  I expected to be moved by the grace of my favorite sport in the world, eventing.  But I didn't think tears would come to my eyes when I watched some Japanese man I'd never heard of throw down the most improbably gorgeous dressage test ever, so that the entire crowd would end up on its feet, cheering, but they did.  I didn't imagine that when a Chinese woman and a Finnish woman played badminton in Wembley Arena, the entire crowd, predominantly British, would begin a roaring football-style sideline cheer, one side shouting, "Chi-NAH!  Chi-NAH!" and the other, "Finland, Finland (clap-clap-clap)," to the near-stunned bemusement of the two competitors, but they did.  I didn't think the boisterous Korean man wildly cheering each and every one of Korea's 45 Women's Team Epee fencing points would recognize the Panamanian flag of the people sitting beside him, and add, "Panama!  Panama!' to the end of his chants, nor did I expect that when Korea narrowly edged the United States to make the gold medal match that he would yell, "USA! USA!" not in one-upmanship but in appreciation for a finely fought match, but he did.  As we walked out of the arena we shook hands.  "Family?" I asked him, because one thing I learned at the Olympics is that every athlete has family behind them.  "Ah, no," he said, shaking his head.  "Friends."

Boston was beautiful before the blast, because of the athletes, their families, and the friends that surrounded them.  It was beautiful after the blast, because of the helpers and friends.

The blast itself was evil, but I'm betting that beauty prevails.