Finding the Tangible in Abstract Sympathy

Dew Drops by Merlin2525 - Some Dew Drops I drew for another drawing using Inkscape.

Disasters touch us. They find us, unexpectedly at times. Some touch us directly: our loved ones, our locations, our communities. Sometimes they touch us for abstract reasons that are difficult to articulate.

Like much of the U.S., I’m clamoring for news from Boston, trying to make sense of how explosions came in the middle of smiles and sweat and sore muscles near the finish line of the marathon. It was Patriot’s Day, it was the Boston Marathon for Pete’s sake. This one touched Boston, but it also touched the running community. For those who run and those of us who try to run, the Boston Marathon is big, beautiful, and bountiful. It’s the longest running marathon (with the exception of the Olympic Marathon, which is only run every four years) and one that you have to qualify by time to run (or raise funds for a charity slot). To participate is to celebrate the ability, the journey, the history, the community. Now that celebration has been touched, it’s been marred.

I haven’t been to Boston and I haven’t run a marathon, but running the Boston Marathon is still a dream. I’m reeling. I feel touched by this tragedy, but all of my sympathy, all of my sadness feels abstract. The abstraction hasn’t helped me and it hasn’t helped others. Most of us want to feel useful, but figuring out what to do can be difficult. The Runner’s World website has an up-to-date list of ways to help or show support. Check here if you’re interested to see what’s available. There are planned runs to remember and honor, and people are wearing blue and yellow (the colors of the Boston Marathon). I love how people get together in sorrow and solidarity.

In tears, I pray about what to do, but the answers don’t come or maybe I am not listening.

While there was tragedy, there was also beauty in those who went to help, who ran into the confusion to rescue and offer hope. There was help offered to the runners and spectators, the out-of-towners and locals. Little pockets of community formed as people tried to find their loved ones and struggled to find meaning in the tragedy.

On Facebook, the Mr. Rogers quote to “look for the helpers” is making the rounds. It made the rounds back in December after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. This morning, tears streamed down my face as the NPR reporter shared the quote at the end of the hour of Morning Edition.

I’m searching for a way for my sadness and sympathy to be tangible and not a distraction, to be worth something. I remember hearing a news story about the aftermath of the Newtown shootings and how the community is now dwarfed by the number of toys and things sent by people wanting to help. I understand the sentiment and admire the thoughtfulness, but in my judgement a community drowning in toys doesn’t seem to be what is needed. I don’t want to be critical. There’s enough of that in this world.

I prayed some more and I realized the answers had been there all along. Sometimes, the answers to prayers come with the help of those around us and those who seem to be with us. Mr. Rogers said, “Always look for the helpers.” I want to be one of the helpers, but I might not be one of the brave or the badged. I want to help, but Boston is far away. Tomorrow, I’m going for a run because I can. In my slow strides I will look for a way to make it a physical prayer. Being fit and being ready begin with those first slow steps. I want to be ready to run and ready to help. I signed up to donate blood. I signed up for a first aid class, because it’s been too many years since I was trained. Next, I’m looking for the first responder training, because it’s been too long since I carried the skills in my brain or the card in my wallet. While I am stunned by this event, I have to remember all the other tragedies and sadness and destruction and senseless death that didn’t grab the headlines, that missed my attention.

I’ll run or train until it feels like running. I’ll pray. I’ll train to be a first responder. I will also look for the joy and the laughter and the beauty and the love. I’ll practice. And in the next tragedy, I’ll look for the helpers.


  1. I’ve been trying to think of something thoughtful to say in reply to your post, but I can’t. I think you’ve said it all so well. I hope you are still dreaming of running your marathon. We all need a dream.

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