Spirit/Essay. Of mirrors and marathons. Reflections five years after Hell came home.

It is April in New England, and the marathon has come again. Since 2013, race day is not a simple joy anymore. It is the anniversary of a bombing.

It is the day we learned how strong we really were, how resilient we could be when we locked arms and hearts with one another. I watched strangers pick up limbs from the sidewalk, wrap them in T-shirts and run toward ambulances, use belts as tourniquets, and never worry about the insanity of it all, just a need to do everything right and as quickly as possible.

I was already in a different era of life, watching from a padded chair, having graduated from a hospital bed to wheelchair at a rehabilitation hospital to home.

A spinal injury had led to surgery to a long hospitalization for antibiotics when infection set in along my spine and near my brain. I had an all new appreciation for people who could push a specialized wheelchair, let alone the elite athletes who propelled theirs like shells through the water.

The race started with its traditional rhythm of wheelchair racers, then the elite men and women, then streams of athletes and dreamers coming across the finish line, each a true victor in their distinct way.

Suddenly there were two flashes, obscuring clouds of smoke, then fuzzy images and a lot of red everywhere. I recognized the site of the second bomb as a building in which I had once worked as a medical book editor.

With time, we do not remember the faces of most people we meet briefly, but rather what they were like. Were they smart, kind, competent? Did they know that real authority, real leadership is based in responsibility and service?

It is not the buzz of sudden terror that endures, be it from an accident, fever, or even a bomb. What endures is the loving, the humane, and the constructive — a gentle touch, the murmur of a prayer, the simplicity of someone who will not leave us, to be in pain or even to die alone.

Be strong, be fair, be kind. That is how we run the marathon of life, whether it flows as expected or is blown apart by illness, violence, or death. That is what makes a true victor when we find our finish line.

We do not run the race, to persevere, because we know that life is fair, people are good, or endings are happy.

We run the race because we know that people can be kind at the cost of their comfort, sometimes their lives, that life can throw amazingly beautiful moments in the midst of horror, and that memories of true grace can endure from days of illness, accident, even hate.

We run the race not because of what we are, but because we know what we can be.

That is where the power to run the race comes from, from within, from knowing what we can do, can become, may be able to contribute to the world in the moment it needs us most.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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