On Marathon Day in New York, I get this absurd surge of ambition. 'Next year,' I tell myself, 'I'll run this sucker.' But I'm a sprinter, by build and temperament. And now, with age and some small maturity, I'm just a spectator.
My apartment is about mile 24. So I go down to the corner to watch. It's beautiful on Fifth Avenue most years, and it was especially pretty yesterday --- leaves just starting to turn, a flawless sky, a great crowd.
The first runners we saw were the women, and the cheers were loud.
Next came the disabled. Most rode hand-propelled bikes. Some were grizzled Vietnam vets. A few were women. Most were amputees; some had useless legs, taped together.
You see these people and you imagine the dedication it takes to do what they do --- hell, just to get through their days --- and you have a faint flash of what feels like pity, and then you get a surge of admiration for what they're achieving. Yeah, they had some bad luck, but they didn't let it stop them. They're steaming down Fifth Avenue, bathed in glory --- this is the stuff of heroism. It's not to be patronized. It's to be cherished. And so you cheer.
Then came a guy with one good leg. The other ended at the knee, and then he had a spring-like thing that functioned as a shin and shoe. Three friends were running with him, and I thought, 'What an honor that must be,' and I practically shouted myself hoarse for the guy.
At length came the four lead male runners. Magnificent Africans, lean and hollow-eyed, running together just a bit longer before the turn into Central Park and the sprint to the finish. The spectators cheered for them, but nothing like the cheers for the disabled.
I thought about that. And decided that what I saw --- what I see every year --- is something glorious: We want to cheer for people who get a bad break and don't accept it. We're happy that these people find comrades. That they make a plan and execute it. And then, on a day that honors excellence, that they too get a chance to shine.
And then I thought this, and it made me so so sad: these deeply human impulses are also our finest impulses as Americans. We are --- at least most of the people I know --- generous people, eager to do a kindness if we can.
But our government is another story. Just last week, Congress voted to deny free food to hundreds of thousands of school children in the name of a more 'responsible' budget. To do that and go home to your own well-fed kids --- and feel no shame? Who does that? Hateful men, mean and proud of it. Men determined to keep on killing and maiming people in Iraq who will never get much in the way of medical care, support or opportunity.
So it hurts to see, as I did on Marathon Day, the face of fairness and inclusion and brotherhood. It's a bitter reminder of who we are at our best, and how little that matters when our leaders are intent on showing us at our worst.