Letter: The Most Innocent of Sports

To the Editor:

I humbly offer some thoughts about the grief and pain in Boston.

In running we perform the most basic and primitive of physical acts. Great athletes run, of course, but any physically capable human who wishes can also run. Running a measured and timed distance is open to all of us. It is the sport for every man — and every woman.

A marathon is not only the most ancient of sports but the most innocent of sports, for both participants and spectators. There were no highly paid, pampered athletes on the route from Hopkinton to Copley Square, no A-Rods or Lance Armstrongs to betray us with infidelity or steroids. There were only amateurs. The rules are simple: Follow the course, don’t cheat, run the whole distance.

The line between spectators and runners is literally and figuratively thin. Onlookers understand what’s going on. They are not kept at bay by walls and grandstands. Spectators are allowed to press close, and they participate in ways not possible at other athletic events with their shouts of encouragement, their proffered cups of water and Gatorade, their ringing horns and cow bells. Everyone with eyes and a beating heart understands that the ordinary men and women who labor past have elected to punish their bodies for 26.2 agonizing miles. We watch marathons not merely to see great performances but to see fellow humans — bartenders, doctors, teachers, cops, janitors, housewives; people just like us — join in a long, grueling contest. We hear their heavy breathing. We see the concentration on their faces. There is a nobility about it. The marathon elicits unity and empathy unlike any other event.

The two cowardly detonations that violated many lives — and took at least three — hurt every one of us. The shock wave reverberates around the world. Once again, innocents are wounded and killed, as happens in every war and at every act of terrorism. Once again, we are reminded of the words of John Donne: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

A.E. Norton