David Moseley

Why striking a marathon strikes us all

2013-04-24 08:32

David Moseley

The reactions to the reaction of the Boston Marathon bombings provide interesting viewing. At first there is shock, then sympathy, then grief. Before the day has dimmed, though, people are asking why tragic events in less prominent parts of the world aren’t given the same attention.

Social commentary has ranged from the benignly well-meaning “what happened in Boston is truly horrible, but what about the situation in Syria” to the outright callous “it’s only three dead, who cares. More die in an hour in some places”. Of course, I’m just paraphrasing here. But you get the gist out it.

Others instantly called the excessive media coverage outrageous in light of what’s happening in the world that’s not America, while others pondered what kind of a world we’d live in if we cared as much about the “others” as we did for those in Boston. Relevant assessments, all. Although in defence of the media coverage, we’re now a week and bit past the marathon bombings and it’s already slipping from general media view.

I also think it’s slightly unfair to say that Boston bombing got more coverage than, say, the war in Syria. Media consumers will know that the Syrian situation was well-covered initially but, as with anything, interest starts to wane the longer it drags on. A local example would be the initial fire and brimstone from activists and other concerned citizens immediately after the rape and death of Anene Booysen. There are still people fighting the fight, but after the first explosion of coverage, it simmers down to a boil.

That being said, from a “Western”, peace-time point of view (and I think, despite the horrific crime in South Africa, we would generally agree that we are not quite yet at war here) the Boston bombers could not have chosen a better occasion to strike fear and uneasiness into the people of “comfortable” world.

When I say comfortable, I mean people like me, like you, those who go about their daily business with the aim of getting by and doing their utmost to avoid an untimely demise. I refer to people who don’t wake up to the sound of air raid sirens and 6am shelling.

Marathons are for everyone. Not everyone participates but, in theory, everyone can participate. Just look at the London Marathon this past weekend – around 35 000 able-bodied runners, wheelchair athletes, blind runners and Wombles took part. In South Africa all sorts of characters – rich, poor, black, white, guy, girl – take part. It’s a unifying, levelling sport at ground level more than any other team sport could ever hope to be.

Marathons like Boston, London and even our own Two Oceans and Comrades Marathons are truly global events. So despite the setting and whatever the intentions of the bombers, the bombing of the Boston Marathon finish line was not just a strike against America. It was a strike against everyone who wishes to live in peace, a strike against people who are neither here nor there, a strike against normality.

A marathon itself is the culmination of ambition and dedication. Just getting to the start line requires a decent four months of effort. The finish, then, is when joy and pain combine to create a sense of achievement that is rare to come across in the humdrum of daily existence.

Runners know this. Spectators at marathons know this. Running is not about the 21km or the 42km or 56km on race day, running is a way of life that connects wildly disparate groups and puts us all in the same, sweaty pot. Running is where real life happens for a lot of people, where the world actually does connect.

That’s why spectators line the streets at Boston, London and Comrades. That’s why the bombing was so sinister and maybe, just maybe, that’s why the coverage, the emotion and the outpouring immediately afterwards was so intense and so heartfelt and so outraged. The bombings showed, there is no normal. 

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