Corey's Corner: unity in a time of tragedy
Bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, killing three and injuring over 100. As dismay diffuses across America, President Barry Corey responds to the tragedy. | Aaron Tang [Creative Commons]
In 2004 and 2006 I ran the Boston Marathon. Twice I safety-pinned a bib number to my running shirt, just like 23,000 others. It all began in Hopkinton, a little more than 26 miles from the finish line on Boylston Street. Every Patriot’s Day since, it has all come back to me.
The runners assemble in their carrels, some close to the front of the line; others like me near the back of the pack. Some bib numbers in the single and double digits, but most like mine were five-digited. My most recent number: 19902.
The road out of Hopkinton starts with a 300-foot descent the first four miles along Route 135. It’s a race that mingles highs and lows. Orange slices handed to runners from children. Wellesley College coeds screaming at the halfway point. My legs cramping at mile 17, and hitting the wall at Hell’s Valley as the course crosses Route 128 in Newton and the beginning of five uphill miles, culminating in Heartbreak Hill. Makeshift bands playing outside of nursing homes. Boston College undergraduates telling me I can make it, convincing me though my muscles and lungs want to give up. My family hollering my name a few miles from the end.
Boston’s the greatest footrace in the world, welcoming elite athletes and charity runners both. It’s a race with runners representing more than 90 nations. Runners still in their teens alongside runners in their 80s. Boston’s been run 117 times, each race beginning with a gunshot from the starting line official.
But this time, 2013, the race that began with a gunshot ended with a bomb blast. Martin was killed. He was 8 and had just hugged his dad at the finish line. His little sister lost her leg and his mother has a severe brain injury. Krystal was in her 20s. She died too. So did a Chinese graduate student at Boston University. Nearly 200 were injured, gruesomely and innocently.
Videos played over and over again showed a 78-year-old marathoner in the final steps of his 26.2 mile race as the first bomb detonated. His name was Bill Ifflig from Washington. The percussion of the blast stunned him, his legs going all noodly before he fell to the street. That captured image is one many will long remember.
But this knee-buckling moment is not the image that will define Monday. What will be even longer remembered are the Boston police who picked Bill up. What will be remembered are the heroes who moved the barricades and began tending to the wounded. What will be remembered are the crowds of onlookers who instinctively began to help, not knowing if a third explosion would soon follow. What will be remembered is the man in the cowboy hat who jumped over a fence and ran toward the people just maimed. He took off a shirt and tied it around the stump of Jeff Bauman’s leg, saving his life.
The resolve to overcome this heartless act of terror came in heart-full acts of mercy and solidarity. The day after Marathon Monday, the New York Yankees paid tribute to their historic rivals the Boston Red Sox by playing “Sweet Caroline” at Yankee Stadium, honoring a longstanding tradition at Fenway. Runners at this coming Sunday’s London Marathon plan to cross the finish line with their hands over their hearts. During a concert Monday night at Madison Square Garden, Muse lead singer Matthew Bellamy called out “This is for Boston!” and played an impromptu version of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
I’ve lived in Boston long enough to know of its resilience and its gritty determination. Bill Ifflig may have buckled to his knees, but Boston won’t. This nation won’t. My prediction is that the Boston Marathon will return in 2014 stronger than ever.
The way to return is by neither harboring vengeance nor nursing anger. It’s living in hope and even forgiveness, the theme of last week’s chapel. A friend of mine heard Phileena Heuertz last Tuesday address the Biola community. Tying her words into Monday’s horrific event in Boston, this is what he said: “At the end of the day it’s about forgiveness. To identify with Christ by living a crucified life and to forgive in a way that only God can make possible — that's the only way we can truly come to grips with such darkness. Of course, forgiveness isn't an alternative to justice, and Phileena made this point. Without the justice of God — and this includes the justice God entrusts to governmental authorities ‘to bring punishment on the wrongdoer’ — forgiveness would be an empty gesture.”