I run for my life. I run to clear my head for writing, to deepen my thinking, perfect my poems, finish my essays. I run to be a more patient mother, compassionate wife, engaged teacher, and a less distracted friend. I run to slim down, to get back to the essence of who I am.
After our first child was born, the best gift I got was on my first Mother’s Day: a purple running stroller from my husband. If objects could speak, it would have said, “Welcome back to your body.” It reminded me that in my new role of being a mother, there is still room to run. I ran my daughter along the summer shores of Lake Michigan, ran her through nap time and into toddlerhood. Fifteen years later, she runs on her cross country team at Evanston High School; it gives her confidence, strength, focus, and joy.
I run along the winter lake and I run into the underbelly of a summer morning, sometimes with my 11-year -old son who also runs cross country at his middle school. My husband has run the Chicago and New York Marathons. My father ran the Mayor Daley Marathon at 60, without training, six weeks after hospitalization for pneumonia. He began running at 40, in the alleys between homes because it wasn’t fashionable back in the ’70s.
I ran through the grief after my mother died of scleroderma, and I ran days after my breast cancer diagnosis. During chemo—sometimes too tired to get off the couch—I’d slip into my winter running garb, push myself out the door, and run the chemo out of my system, returning to my healthier self. I suffered greatly when I had to pause for several months in the aftermath of a mastectomy and tram flap reconstruction that borrowed fat and tissue from my core. But I ran again months later, beginning with the day my surgeon gave me permission.
This spring, I’m training for my first half marathon. It’s tough going because my core is still weak from my surgery, and I’m slow and achy, and so far have only made it to just over four miles; I was going to take today off.
But instead today I am running for Boston. Yesterday’s news of the terror at the end of the Boston Marathon slowly seeped into my body, and the only thing I could think of doing this morning was run. I put on my red winter running hat, and I darted out the door in the hesitant sunshine and ran along Lake Michigan, thinking, again, of how I run to save my life, to cherish life, to remember who I am and how the runners and onlookers in Boston who do all of that 10-fold have lost lives, limbs, and potentially something much less tangible and even more difficult to replace. They lost a sense of freedom to celebrate the purity of the sport they love. The runner’s high that they’ve earned was transformed into the deepest fear and sorrow.
As I run slowly on the wet sand along glistening water, I think about how many months these people have trained and how for some it was a first marathon and for others it has become a way of life, a way of celebrating Boston, a way of honoring liveliness and life. I am stunned by the beauty beneath my feet, but there is a huge shadow as I imagine the horror of running into a euphoria to be greeted by malicious terror.
On the morning after, we don’t know yet who was responsible. It was an act of hatred, the magnitude of which is profoundly frightening. The bombs were meant to hurt as many people as possible, including children, onlookers, random citizens. It was meant to take limbs that had been exercised to perfection. And it did.
Many of us awoke still in shock this morning in cities around the globe, as we put on red hats, race shirts, laced up our Sauconys and Nikes, and ran our hearts out for Boston, for the honor and memory of the runners and victims. It will take a long time to jog off the memory of hatred, to understand the depths of such cruelty. We have many miles to go before we run in peace again without shadow. But we will.
Evanston resident Dina Elenbogen has an MFA in creative writing from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago, and is the author of the poetry collection Apples of the Earth. She wrote this essay the day after the Boston bombings.