Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Final Thoughts On The Marathon Trial: No Finish Line In Sight For the Many Who Still Carry On

“…they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” –Isaiah 40

“And they lived happily ever after…”

It’s the most human of hopes: that the story will always end well.  That when the last page is finally turned, everything works out and makes sense.  A happy ending. Questions are answered. Mysteries are solved.  The hero or heroine triumphs and beats the bad guy, who always pays for his sins. The grief stricken heal and their tears are wiped away. Peace returns to the land.

“And they lived happily ever after….”

If only life, real life, was like this.  If only life provided us with clear and unambiguous beginnings and endings. It’s only human to crave this kind of narrative for our lives, our stories, and our world. To pray to God that in the end, the good always wins and the bad always loses. Justice prevails.  Life is fair.

That’s the kind of ending I was hoping for recently on the day I heard that the jury in the Boston Marathon Bombing trial had handed down a final sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  That day I guess I wanted to believe that somehow, when a verdict had finally been rendered, there might be a kind of final satisfaction in its announcement.  A communal catharsis.  A collective sigh of relief.  Clarity. Maybe even closure.

But now weeks later, it feels to me that an “ending”, especially a satisfactory ending for an event so real as the Marathon bombing: it’s just not possible. Not right now.  What happened on Boylston Street more than 770 days ago on a sunny spring afternoon is still too close, almost like it happened just yesterday.  It’s still too raw, absolutely, for those who had a loved one snatched away in the microsecond of a bomb blast. It’s still too real for those who lost a limb or sight or hearing or any sense of normalcy. It’s still too scary for those traumatized as they ran or watched the race.  It’s still too immediate for those who rushed into the maelstrom to help the wounded. It’s still too haunting for jury members who saw the price of human evil up close, face to face, and then were charged with the task of choosing life or death.

April 15th, 2013: that day will always be with them and us.  It is important for us as a community to honor this reality. The pain may soften and the trauma lessen.  The memories will begin to fade.  The media coverage about the bombing has already begun to dwindle down and our hyper kinetic news cycle is already rushing on to the next big. But closure? The end? For those close to the blast--physically, emotionally, spiritually-- only they and the God of their understanding can ultimately figure out when it is time to begin to move on. 

That’s an important lesson to remember, especially in our culture which instead seems to be forever ready to move on to the next big thing.  We live in a media landscape which demands that everything be pithily summed up in a sound bite or headline. We worship a god called “Google” that has an answer for everything, right? We participate in social media that’s addicted to instant opinion.   

But real life cannot ever be summed up into such tidy endings.    

Instead the story of human life is messy and amazing, ragged and sharp, beautiful and awful, terrible and miraculous.  Even as we race to the finish line, it is the race, and not the ending, which matters the most. If there is any partial coda to the story of the Boston Marathon bombing, maybe it is one about endurance of the kind practiced by the long distance runner.  The runner who runs to finish, but more important who runs for the profound challenge of the journey. The one who runs to face into his pain, exhaustion and struggle, who hits “the wall” and then keeps on going with courage and grit.  The athlete who stumbles, falls even, but then wills her self to get back up and carry on. 

The race of human life always continues.

So even as the world moves on and that April Monday recedes into the distance, I pray that God will remind us that many still run that marathon.  A proud old city which has come back but will never forget. The grieving who weep and now use their broken hearts to work for peace in honor of the dead. The wounded who bear scars that won’t ever heal.  The rescuers who risked their lives and still do today.

It’s not about the finish line.  It is about the race.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Drivers and Cyclists: Can't We All Just Get Along!?

“Civility [is] more than just being nice. It is learning how to live well with others. [It is] thoughtfulness, courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners.”                      --Pier Massimo Forni

I’m back on the road again, riding my bicycle, like thousands of other cyclists on these warm spring days.  Every year about now many of us weekend warriors dust off bikes that have hung forlornly in the garage since last fall. We squeeze into skin tight lycra shorts, sometimes not a very pretty sight.  We pump up the tires, fill up the water bottles and then hop on our two wheeled vehicles and go.


We bike for lots of reasons: to get back into shape after months of sitting still, to train for a charity ride (my main motivator), and to see God’s beautiful Creation at 12 miles per hour.  When you bike on the open road, you drink it all in: the rainbow of bursting flower buds, the sun dappled trees and the balmy breezes that blow you along.  Cycling can be truly idyllic, amazing, and even miraculous: to transport one’s self very long distances and do so with only muscles and lungs and wits and grit. 

But every year when I return to the road, I bring a secret fear, a haunting worry: that this will be the year I get hit by a car or a truck. That one moment I’ll be wheeling along and the next I’ll be flying through the air on my way to a nasty accident.  That what I risk as I ride is not just sore legs or sunburned skin but my life too.  My body.  My safety.  My future. I know I tempt the fates by actually putting these words to paper. Maybe I’m becoming a nervous Nelly as I age. Maybe my fears are unfounded. 

It is only a bike ride, right?

Yet here’s the reality: take a little bike which often weighs less than 20 pounds and then mix it up with a two or three ton vehicle barreling along and every time, the bike loses.  The bike loses.  Every single time.  It’s not even a fair fight.  No contest.  Every spring we pick up the newspaper or surf the net and read the first seasonal story about a bicyclist killed in a collision. A college student on Commonwealth Avenue crushed under a bus.  An after work cyclist clipped by the side mirror of a truck.  A suburban Mom and wife taken from this earth, when a driver decides to text on his phone for just a second, and in that blink of an eye, the biker dies. 

The statistics are depressing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012, 726 cyclists nationwide perished on the road, fifteen in Massachusetts and beyond these fatalities are ten of thousands of injuries from bicycle-vehicle encounters.  There are obvious reasons for this, like physics: big always beats small.  Some bikers are hurt or perish because they don’t wear a helmet, disregard traffic rules or take risks.  Vehicles strike bicycles because drivers are distracted: texting, talking, fiddling, eating, doing anything but keeping their eyes on the road.

For me road safety all comes back to civility: the quaint, old fashioned virtue which governs the best of human relationships.

Civility: having manners, being polite, following the rules, and recognizing that the road of life is not just all about “me”; that instead since we share a common road, it is our job to watch out for each other with kindness and care. I know I risk sounding like a prim kindergarten teacher or pontificating preacher. (Guilty as charged!) Yet the truth is that the overwhelming number of accidents would and absolutely could be avoided if only cyclists and drivers would just be more civil to one another. 

For bikers that means we ride single file always, in a straight line, as far over to the side of the road as safely possible.  Ever seen a big pack of Saturday morning cyclists clogging up the road, three or four or five abreast, acting as if they own the whole road?   They are rude.  They are selfish, stupid, even arrogant. I get to say that: I’m a biker too and when they ride like this, they make all of us look bad.  The cyclist who doesn’t use hand signals?  Runs a stop sign? Passes a car on the left?  They’re in the same dummy club too.  Some of my fellow cyclists get hurt, are killed, because they fail to practice common courtesy and common sense.  End of story.

For drivers, civility means we bikers ask you to just pay attention when you are on the road.  Look out for us.  If you see us rolling up to an intersection, meet our eyes if you can, so we can clearly indicate to you what we are doing next.  Give us some space on the road.  We are right next to you. Use your mirrors. And please, PLEASE put down the phone.  If you can’t see us, we are doomed.  When we wave to you for letting us cross a busy street, wave back to us.  It’s our way of saying “Thanks!”. And please don’t judge us by the actions of a minority of reckless cyclists.  Most bikers just want to share the road, have fun, and then get back home safely.  Remember that the cyclist next to you is a real person, a life.

Cars and bicycles on the road: with just a little civility, this can be a safe and fun season for riding.  Please watch out for us bikers and we’ll watch out for you too.

Thank you.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Winter of 2015 Is Finally, Absolutely, Completely Over! Right?

“The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.”                
--Joseph Wood Krutch

OK: I just have to ask. Is the winter of 2015 finally over? Really, really over?

I know I should believe in spring, which seems to have finally arrived with our first seventy degree day. I want to trust Mother Nature: that the wicked storms of January, February and March are now but a distant and distressing memory. That the record breaking 108.6 inches of snow we were buried under is now almost melted away, save for a handful of mud encrusted piles still hanging around like unwanted guests.  That winter has actually departed, is gone, fini, done, kaput. That’s all folks! Roll the credits. And hey winter: don’t let spring hit you in the fanny as you are leaving!

Yet still I wonder—is that it?  Excuse my skepticism: my PTWS (post traumatic winter syndrome) just won’t let go.   

The calendar says it is now finally, absolutely spring; that our second season officially began last March 20th, seven weeks ago.  The possibility it could snow again is practically nil. The latest it ever snowed in Boston was on June 6th and 7th, 1816, in a time historians dub “the year without a summer”. Six inches of the white stuff fell those two days but that was a "one off" freak of nature, caused by a massive eruption on New Zealand’s Mount Tambora the year before.  The volcanic ash clogged the upper atmosphere and blocked out the sun. Temperatures hovered in the forties for much of July and August in New England. BRRRR! 

But that won’t happen this year.  We’ve seen the last of winter.  Right? Right?! 

I don’t mean to be so skittish about the promise of spring and summer, so untrusting of the natural world that I second guess the blessed arrival of these amazing warm days, open window weather. When birds return to the feeder in my backyard and I return from the cooped up confines of my dark basement to the freedom of a screened in back porch and an Adirondack chair. When delicate green buds appear on the trees and the peepers begin peeping again after sundown. When bright yellow delicate daffodils wave in the breeze. When the Red Sox are on the radio again, playing a game outside, and even if they get swept by the Yankees in a weekend series at Fenway, I don’t really care. When my pasty white skin actually feels the warmth of the sun again! 

Because after what felt like the longest winter ever, ever: I guess it is spring. Wow! SPRING! I’ll take a leap of faith and believe.  WHEW! Thank God!

Goodbye winter.  You are outta here!

Goodbye to multiple mucked up Mondays, events postponed and cancelled, kids driving parents crazy from being caged inside like wild animals because of another storm interrupted school day.  Goodbye to smug friends who escaped this winter and then posted Facebook pictures of themselves sunning on the beach and frolicking in the surf, while back in Boston us sad sacks hunkered down for another blizzard.  Goodbye snow shovels and roof rakes and leaky ceilings and ice dams and overblown oil bills.  Goodbye ice skating rink parking lots and delayed trains and statewide states of emergency. 


I know winter is the price that we pay for calling this part of God’s world home. I know that even though it is our cherished tradition as cranky Yankees to complain about the weather no matter what the time of year, I’d not live anywhere else.  I’ll take four wild and unpredictable seasons over boring temperate climes any day.  But this year, this spring: I get the feeling that because of the months just past, the miracle that is now May, this year promises to be the best spring we’ve had in a long, long, long time.

And that first person to complain about the heat?  Throw ‘em in the last snow bank.

So welcome back spring.  We missed you.