Today, I got up and went running.
It wasn't the smartest thing to do. I haven't been running in weeks, I haven't been in tiptop shape, and I really overdid it.
But I'm totally grateful.
Last night, after promising myself that I wouldn't go looking for graphic images of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, I went looking for graphic images of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. I always do this, whenever there's a national tragedy. I'm not a ghoul (well, I am a ghoul, but my gleeful celebration of the macabre doesn't extend beyond gory fiction); I just always find myself imagining in the worst things possible. Then I seek out photos to prove to myself that whatever I've imagined is far worse than the reality.
This has never been a successful tactic. Often times, the things I am imagining have a dramatic, Hollywood tone to them. For example, in the aftermath of 9/11, I sought out pictures of the jumpers. Because that was the most horrifying aspect, to me, that fabled rain of bodies the media kept talking about. I went looking for pictures, expecting to see fear and panic on the faces of the people plummeting to their doom. What I saw were grainy photos of tumbling bodies, and some horrific images of pools of blood and torn clothing on the ground. The fact that the reality looked so unreal, that it didn't fit my Hollywood perception of what a disaster should be like, made it even more difficult to cope.
Yesterday, I vowed I wouldn't let that happen again, and yet again I couldn't keep my promise to myself. Those of you who struggle with mental illnesses like depression and obsessive thoughts will understand what I mean when I say I had no choice in the matter; the longer I avoided the news sources, the more graphic and morbid my thoughts became. And even though I knew that looking would not make me feel any better, I did. I found pictures of people covered in blood and dust, bodies laying on the ground, first responders checking pulses. There was blood, too, so much of it that it didn't seem real.
And I saw a photo of a young man in a long-sleeved t-shirt, being pushed in a wheelchair by three first responders. And the flesh of his calf was gone. It was just gone. The bone was still there, sticking out surreally from the ragged end of his knee. But the injury wasn't the most shocking thing about that photo. It was his face. He wasn't screaming. He didn't look shocked or horrified or even in much pain. He looked like he was grieving. As though the moment that photo was taken, he was just realizing how his life, his body, had been irrevocably changed. That only minutes before, he was standing, or walking, that he had the ability to stand and walk. That only minutes before, he had legs.
I don't know if he was a runner. It's hard to tell, from his clothing. Maybe he was a spectator, cheering on a friend. Maybe he was thinking, "Gosh, [friend/relative/partner] is so crazy, I can't believe anyone would do this to himself," in the gentle way we non-marathoners think about our marathoning friends. Maybe he had dreams of qualifying one day, himself.
My husband tried to comfort me by reminding me about prosthetics and physical therapy. All I could think about was the time table involved in that. It isn't like this guy is going to go home tomorrow with a new plastic leg and life will be normal. It's going to take weeks of surgeries and rehabilitation to walk again. Not to mention the life-long mental devastation of being the victim of an act of terror and forever being branded "that guy with his legs blown off in that photo."
So, when I got up today, I decided I would run. Not because I could change anything that happened, or because I thought I was doing something supportive or helpful or anything like that. It wasn't a prayer or "sending energy," it was my own selfish expression of how grateful I am to have legs. And, again selfishly, I hoped that if I could appreciate the fact that I can still run, I would forget that picture, and that man's gray, mournful face. That I could actually outrun what I had seen.
I don't know if that man died. Traumatic amputation is one of those things very Hollywoodized in our minds as a survivable injury. But often, it's not. That man could be dead now. He could be alive. I don't know. But that picture, and the expression on his face, are going to be in my memory forever. I can only imagine how affected the people on the scene were, the kind of images they will try to outrun. For the rest of us, maybe rather than seeking out more about the tragedy, more speculation, more rumor, more graphic images, maybe we should protect ourselves. Be good to ourselves. And never stop appreciating how fragile our lives are, and how quickly everything can change.
"Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides." - Carl Sagan