Thursday, April 18, 2013

Heartbreak Beyond Heartbreak (Hill)

by Campbell Lovett 

Thirty-four years ago – and about that many pounds lighter than now – I ran a few marathons. To run a marathon was an effort to prove something to yourself. Could you train hard enough? Could you endure long enough? Could you focus intentionally enough? Fortunately, this was accomplished with others who were working through similar questions while seeking to prove something to themselves; that close camaraderie made it worth the effort.
The marathons I ran were at the tail-end of the “loneliness of the long distance runner” era. Therefore, while many people gathered at the start and finish of races, the scattered pedestrians on the course looked at us askance as we competed with cars along roadways still open for use.
The Boston Marathon was always different. Though I never ran Boston, I did hear from runners who were amazed not only at the informality of the race – hundreds of unregistered runners regularly jumped in to compete and to complete the course – but also at the carnival atmosphere along the entirety of the route. Selecting a running shirt was crucial because that was how the thousands of cheering fans identified you, yelling out whatever was printed on your jersey. Now, many run not only to prove something to themselves, but also for a cause, a cure, or a memory. Thus, the names of charities and lost loved ones, printed on racing singlets, are evoked along the way as well.
My son, who went to Boston College, loved the festival atmosphere. Not only were public schools cancelled for the state’s Patriots’ Day holiday, but private schools closed as well since the festivities would far outdraw the lecture de jour. Boston College is located at the top of “Heartbreak Hill.” Heartbreak Hill is a long series of ascents where if you are going to prove something to yourself it will probably have to happen there. Students at BC congregate at the edge of campus to watch the leaders crest the hill and then cheer for classmates who are following far behind. There is an initial hush as the lead pack of runners go by, who, because their form is so ultra-efficient and their pace so fast, look like a group of friends riding by in a convertible. Following this moment of awe, the raucous cheers break out for the common man – and since 1972 the common woman.
The Boston Marathon bombing is so shocking because it was obviously done by someone who wanted to prove something not to himself, but to others. Could he display to the world his repressed rage? Could he divert attention to his cause? Could he maim and kill the innocent for some misguided agenda? That is what makes this act of terrorism so terrifying: a sick person seeking to prove something to others by targeting people who are simply trying to prove something to themselves - or do something for others. It is jarring.
Ninety minutes before the bombs detonated, I was concluding a presentation about Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. That recent immersion into Luke’s narrative shaped my viewing of the bombing’s aftermath. The one who fell into the hands of robbers was everywhere. The assaulted and bloodied were scattered by the side of the road, in this case, Boylston Street. Instead of people passing by on the other side, however, it was quite the opposite. Spectators and emergency medical personnel waded into the grisly scene and treated the wounded with exquisite care. Those pictures of the Good Bostonians are powerful: police helping up an elderly runner blown to the ground by the explosion; runners pressing shirts into wounds to staunch the bleeding; spectators cradling the injured as they await triage. No one is passing by on the other side – they are all in the thick of it: merciful, scared, compassionate, anxious. The runners’ camaraderie expanded exponentially by all of this goodness in the face of evil.
The beauty of Jesus’ story is that we soon forget the brutality of the robbers due to the caring example of the Good Samaritan. It will be difficult for us to forget the butchery of a bomber on a festive day. But while the investigation continues, perhaps by keeping the image of those kindly ones before us we will know better how to respond in the face of terror: as neighbors who do justice, love kindness, and run humbly with our God.


  1. This was sent to me via Tim Backenstose with permission from Campbell to reproduce it on our blog. I sometimes have thoughts that approach Campbell's, but I am not good at articulating them as well. I thank Tim and Campbell for this post. The help is appreciated more than you'll ever know.

  2. From mudman to poet philosopher (and preacher)! LTM

  3. Yeah, but I still remember him puking up a pickle one night - whole!


  4. That somehow sounds quite painful.

  5. Must have been a virulent case of the flu.....


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