18: American Spirit Soars at Lowest Times

18: American Spirit Soars at Lowest Times

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

American Spirit Soars at Lowest Times

Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls.

~David Thomas

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens was writing about London and Paris in A Tale of Two Cities, but on Patriots’ Day 2013, the familiar opening line from his famous novel perfectly described Boston. Indeed, it was a “City of Two Tales.”

The worst of times was the two evil bombs, designed to kill and maim and cause terror, exploding near the marathon finish line and succeeding on all counts.

But even before the second sinister explosion went off twelve seconds after the first, the best of times were underway and the spirit of America was on display. Watching the breaking news videos on TV for the first time, my son saw this best instantly, turning to me and saying: “Look at all the people running toward the explosion and going into the fray to help!”

Within three terror-and-adrenaline-fueled-racing heartbeats, the first responders in bright-colored vests were bravely running toward the blast, toward the smoke, toward the chaos and danger to help victims in an American city suddenly turned into Baghdad or Tel Aviv, into a war zone.

Yet even more remarkable was to see the heroes without vests, the race volunteers and runners and spectators without special emergency and disaster training, hurrying into harm’s way to help.

As with 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy and on and on, it was a vivid example of the wisdom of the late Fred Rogers — famously known as Mr. Rogers — who told his TV viewers that if they saw a scary thing, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

“Helpers” by another word are “heroes.”

The best of times was to see images of a burly man “helper” carrying an injured woman away from the blood-wet pavement.

The best of times was to hear a woman praising a “helper” for rushing her to safety in a wheelchair and then racing back to aid another person in need.

The best of times was to learn of a Good Samaritan being, in truth, a Great Samaritan by using his belt as a tourniquet to try and save a life — and a runner doing the same with his T-shirt.

The best of times was the marathoners who crossed the finish line and continued running two more weary miles to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood.

The best of times was Patriots’ Day becoming a day of true patriots.

In the early aftermath the most popular hashtag on Twitter was #PrayforBoston. But people did more than pray — they acted. Restaurants opened and gave free meals; coffee shops provided free Wi-Fi for runners to contact loved ones; on social media message boards local residents offered beds to those who could not return to their hotels.

Feeling a desire to connect in some small way, I posted my own #PrayforBoston tweet: “Today we are all runners.”

Even three thousand miles away from the mayhem in Massachusetts, as a marathon runner myself I soon experienced the outpouring of a unified community. Mere moments after this 21st century Boston Massacre, a knock came on my front door: it was my concerned neighbor — with whom I have only a wave-in-passing relationship; usually when I am running and he is driving — checking to see if I was home and not racing in Boston.

Too, I received a number of phone calls, texts and e-mails asking the same question. One came from a friend I had not heard from in more than three years; another was from a fellow runner pointing out that the finish-line clock read 4:09 when the blasts went off and, accounting for our delay in the pack of runners getting to the actual starting line of the race four years ago, that is about when we triumphantly ran down Boylston Street — with my wife cheering me on precisely where the second bomb went off.

During a twelve-mile run later on this horrific day, as I tried to settle my thoughts and also honor the victims, three pedestrians — one I know and two unfamiliar faces — yelled out: “Glad you weren’t in Boston today.”

On Boston Marathon Monday 2013 we were all runners.

More than that, we were all neighbors.

~Woody Woodburn

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