It is not, strictly speaking, necessary to run marathons. By the same token, it is not necessary to write books. Nor even to read them.
But we do. People do.
It's hard to remember that when, in the face of the incredible courage and skill of the first responders and other heroes of horrible events, we are struck by the trivial futility of some of our own pursuits.
Working out today, in preparation for the Chicago Marathon, I felt sad and guilty and scared. Security for the race, inevitably, will be extreme. It will cost our city money, diverting resources from other real challenges. Three people died in Boston Monday, but four died in Chicago this weekend from gun violence in our most troubled neighborhoods. How can any of us justify doing anything except sitting down and figuring out how to fix what is broken here?
And of course I will worry about the safety of my husband and children on the sidelines of my race. My most protective instincts tell me to keep them far away from the crowd: at home, where they'll be safe.
But there's a reason not to give into to this fear and it goes far beyond the sloganeering of "not letting the terrorists win."
My children, and others, have to live in this world, as awful and frightening a place as it might sometimes seem to be. And more than this, I want them to thrive in this world. I want them to have the spirit and confidence to use the tremendous advantages they have in education and opportunity to make this world better. To do this, they will have to have a life that is more than simply walling themselves off in only the safest neighborhoods, doing only the safest things.
As a parent, I've had to struggle to find a way to talk to my kids about the awful things that happen in this world. And what I've told them, all thanks due to Mr. Rogers, is that if something violent or scary should happen near them, at school or out and about somewhere, what they must do is to look for the helpers. Because there will always be helpers -- teachers, police officers, good neighbors. I hope that this knowledge will help them live with courage and optimism.
Marathon running can be silly and vain. But it can also be something else: It is about digging deep and finding strength in yourself that you did not know you had. I run because running connects me to my best self, the core of my being that is tenacious and bold. I would love for my children to grow to have the same confidence that I have found in myself as I have come into my own: the knowledge that, while I am deeply flawed, I am also capable of achieving moments of greatness.
I've recently finished writing my first novel, a manuscript I worked on for more than seven years, while also working and raising my sons. My protagonist is a runner. The outline of her story, a fictionalized version of some of my own adventures, has been in my imagination for as long as I can remember. I wrote it, finally, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could. And because I thought there might be some chance of it inspiring others to do something bold with their lives, as my character does.
There are certainly other, more useful, more necessary, things I might have done with the time I've spent, over the years, running and writing. I'm making my own peace with that.
As people, we do things sometimes that are not, strictly speaking, necessary. We do things, even, that run counter to our own safety and security. We rise to challenges. Though we are not all capable of the heroism of our first responders, we can all find something great within ourselves.