Finding Collective Answers After Tragedy, One View

There is no why. I learned that at 21 years old after finding my sister safe on 9/11, already mourning how many people did not find their loved one alive. There is no why I thought to myself a few days later in Grand Central Station holding my sister's hand, crying together, because there was a sign of two sisters who were still “missing.” There was no why in the weeks afterward, either. As Manhattan burned and ashes clung to the window of our bedroom. There was no why, months later, when I would not fly. When she and I moved to suburbia to feel safer.

As an athlete and a person who lived through 9/11, the bombing of the Boston Marathon reasserts, there is no why. As a runner and as a person whose entire soul is devoted to that incredibly awe-inspiring sport, I can promise every single person who runs -- whether one mile, all 26.2, or 56 -- there is no answer to why. Why him or her? Not me or you. Why not them? Why do we live in this kind of world? Why again? That is the part that never makes sense and never will. Yet, that is the question that came late at night or as the taxi crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and tears started coming because a year later the towers were still expected just for a second even as I reminded myself, "of course, you know they are not there." There is no why five years later when beams of light ascending into the Manhattan skyline announced the anniversary. Or ten years later after I had just finished racing La Parisienne in ode to those lost, when my beloved running coach asked me, “What do you say to someone who has lived through terrorism to comfort them?” “I still do not know,” I replied.

Bombing the finish line of one of the most elite marathons in the world has no sense of justice. The person or people who created this tragedy have no understanding of this sport or of humanity. Running is my heart and soul because of its incredible connection to humility and its profoundly shared resilience. If you want to understand what never giving up means, run a marathon. If you want to understand what support can do, look over to the people along the sidelines -- your family, your friends, strangers united in the cause of hoping for everyone to thrive together, yet cheering you to race your best.

In 2007, when racing the New York City marathon, I came across the 59th street bridge into Manhattan and realized the last time I traversed that bridge on foot was September 11, 2001 -- to leave Manhattan, to return home to Brooklyn and my sister who I had frantically prayed and searched for all day, to hold her safe and sound. I still know exactly what I was wearing, not on marathon day, but on that day. Yet on marathon day, six years later I came across that bridge from the other direction stronger than I ever had been before even with those emotions so tangible. And, there was one woman spectator holding a banana. I swear she was grace because I needed that potassium more than anything on earth. I thanked her profusely but kept going, so I could arrive to my sister who was waiting with my mum, my baby sister, and close friends near our apartments on the Upper East Side to cheer me on.

Twelve years after 9/11, we continue to live in a world where senseless violence occurs without boundaries. We live in a world filled with war. We live in a world where journalists remind the American people of Afghanistan and racist assumptions about terrorism, even though we do not know if this recent bombing was domestic. However, I have never forgotten what my country used 9/11 to do. That is why I have advocated, written, and run to make sure along with so many other amazing human beings that any speck of hatred, any act of war, does not infect my heart or my belief in humanity. Running is that tether for me and for so many others. That shall remain. In fact, that will be strengthened.

Even so, I still have moments when just having my sister be here is enough. She lives in Pittsburgh now, raising two children, and I live in Paris. Recently, she visited along with our younger sister and I watched them walk ahead of me in sunlight along the Seine. That was before Boston. But, that was far after 9/11.

In one of the most eloquent and beautiful responses to the tragedy, Boston Globe Columnist Kevin Cullen says
 …we need more than prayers. We need answers. We need peace of mind, and we’ll never have that again on Patriots Day. Ever.
He is right. But, I can promise Boston will have more compassion and healing in the next weeks, months, and years than can ever be anticipated. The answers do arrive and so does peace. So does healing and appreciation, not ever for the experience itself but for the knowledge of how fragile and incredible every single second we have truly is. I already know how incredible running is as a sport. That is why I devoted my life to it for these past years. I already know incredible humanity. But, I also know not to live in fear, but to live as passionately as possible and for the right reasons. Those are the answers, even if there is no why. Or at least they are mine.

If you are in Paris, please join us this Saturday morning to run in support of Boston

Photo credit: Beth Murphy