Boston (a love letter to my mother, part one)

I’ve been thinking for the past few hours, as many of us have, about Boston.

You should know that I grew up watching my mother cross marathon finish lines.

One of my favorite childhood memories of my mother was a time when we were leaving Disneyland (I grew up in Southern California), and we were all so tired and cold we could barely stand (seeing as how my parents were still together, I know this memory is from when I was very, very, small). We had just missed the shuttle to get to our car, and rather than wait for the next one (I think it was coming in 30 minutes or something absurd, but again, I was young, so maybe it was ten minutes and my brother and I were having an inspired, screaming fit–who knows). I do remember that I felt very, very, very tired. My mom put my brother and my hands into my father’s, grabbed the keys, checked the knots on her shoelaces, and ran the mile or so to the car and drove it to the gate to pick us up.

She beat the shuttle.

My mom could do anything.

The first thing I thought of was not the idiotic terrorist questions people are asking, but of my mom. She is older now, in her 60s, and as some sort of strange result, primarily does triathlons rather than marathons. I know she wouldn’t be in Boston for the marathon this year. She has been before–I have a rubber duckie to this day she brought back for me in a previous year. But I knew something else, too.

I knew that she needed bunion surgery for nearly her entire adult life, which she never got. I vividly remember how, when I was a teenager, she would leave her running shoes in the bathroom, and in my early morning haze, I would stumble to the bathroom, sit on the toilet, and stare at them as I started to come to: otherwise white shoes drying out in their orderly spot beneath the towel rack, the toes dyed a deep brown by blood from her bunions. She said the blood wasn’t a big deal. When I asked her why she didn’t get the surgery, she would tell me simply that if she succumbed to the knife, the healing process would mean she might not be able to run for a year or more. Even if the surgery miraculously took the pain away for the rest of her life, she would have to wait for “when she got old.” Blood or no blood, a year was too long to not run.

My mother is not old yet.

The explosions at the Boston Marathon rip at my heartstrings. They rip at my heartstrings because the first news report I heard was of people receiving amputations of limbs due to the explosions. My immediate thoughts were not of the two (the death count at the time of this writing) who had died, but of runners losing their feet, their legs.

I cannot imagine anything worse for a runner than not being able to run, just as I cannot imagine anything worse for a musician or sculptor than losing her hands, or a painter losing his sight. I thought about when I was doing a lot of dance and performance work, how any time I had a small injury, I would spin into a panic about how it might change my entire life’s focus.

I thought of years and years of my mother running in bloody shoes.

So my first reaction, of course, was sorrow. It was grief. It was empathy for those who were injured, for the loved ones of those injured, and for the two who had died. And I read this quote, and it captured a part of my feeling:

“Anyone who has ever run a race knows that the beauty of the finish line goes far beyond being done; but extends into the realm of accomplishment, courage, and the spirit of freedom that only a long, hard race can provide. Today’s tragedy is horrific on many levels as innocent lives were lost, and has placed fear in the hearts of all of those who run, who encourage, and stand by their loved ones. Today’s events are a thief of running’s main goal: running should set you free.” – Bonnie Lewis

And as you might expect if you have visited my blog in the past, my next reaction was anger. I felt angry because of all of those whose lives are lost daily in the United States for institutionalized reasons rather than because of freak events. I felt angry because of the time a black adolescent snatched my iphone out of my hand at a dirty bus station in Washington DC, about how, as I watched him run away, all I could think about was how mesmorizingly, how impossibly fast he was running, how his form was incredibly beautiful,  how if he were growing up under different circumstances he would be training for the olympics rather than stealing my gadget.

How on weekends, he would be running, maybe, with his mom.

How much my mom would have loved watching him run on television. (Yes, in my house, we did not watch football, we watched running. No joke.)

Then, in the passing of minutes, even that quote made me mad; I felt angry because of how many children I have taught just this year whose fathers have been shot and killed, who go home to their fatherless homes each day despite the trauma. I felt angry at myself for falling into that trap I judge so harshly, of caring because it reminds me of ME, of MY mom, of MY life, when there are so many other things to care about that happen EVERY DAY to OTHER PEOPLE. That just like everyone else–whom I judge so harshly–my emotions are reserved for what pulls at MY heartstrings… for what I see.

I struggle frequently to be compassionate in the face of “event” tragedies, and particularly what I view as middle class event tragedies. There are just so many daily tragedies that go unspoken, so many tears that are not shown to cameras. I become so angry that I lose perspective; I lose my ability to be useful.

Today, however, I realized, too, that caring about people, frankly, is caring about people. And part of why I started this blog is because for those of us living outside of poverty, it is easy not to care because we don’t LOOK at poverty, we don’t witness economic inequity, at how deeply it ties to race and how it affects children. In particular, how it shapes education. And my hope is that this is a forum in which we can look together at what I am seeing all the time.

I like to think that for some of us, for growing and growing numbers of us, when we view tragedy, when we collectively mourn, we DO begin to see outside of our daily world. So tonight, my thoughts as I approach sleep are not so much of judgement as they are of gratitude–gratitude for people outside of Boston who feel compassion for people in Boston whom they have never met. As much as I want to judge their compassion, compassion is compassion, and love is love. And there’s no way we can build active compassion and love where I think we need it most if we can’t start by noticing it whenever and wherever it occurs authentically for us.

Compassion and love, I firmly believe, are the roots upon which our equity will be built.

I learned that, by the way, from my mom, the runner.