One foot in front of the other. So it goes in running, and in life, and so it went at the Boston Marathon, before the horrible white smoke. One foot in front of the other. So it went for the first responders, the cops and the EMTs, running toward the blasts, not away, toward the wounded and the dead, past the barricades that were supposed to protect them.
One foot in front of the other. That’s how the rest of us get to the stadium, too, or the ballpark, or the street corner, all to watch the best of us put one foot in front of the other with skill and strength and something approaching grace. I saw the suffering on television. The fear and the panic. The terror. I was at home, perfectly safe. I felt a chill. I couldn’t believe it. Somebody mentioned secondary devices. Emergency amputations. A murdered child. Hours later, I still can’t believe it.
Part of me — the small, nervous part of me that appreciates every half-hearted at-arena security search of my computer bag, the part that worryingly scans the klieg lights above big games for sniper nests — can’t believe this doesn’t happen more often.
I covered the Athens Olympics. I saw Michael Phelps begin. I saw Marion Jones end. I saw barricades. I saw the Iraqi national soccer team. Everything was on lockdown. Day after day, I lived inside the ring, passing through metal detectors, putting my cell phone and sunglasses in plastic buckets, nodding at grim-faced security guards. Following the closing ceremonies, I trudged back to the main media building, expecting more of the same. Only things were different. Things were done. The guards were smiling, feet up; the metal detector was turned off. I still had my laptop in my bag. It could have been a pipe bomb. I was relieved, happy, and so were the security officers. They were drinking. I would soon join them. Everyone could breathe again. At least for one night.
It is impossible to remain perpetually vigilant. It is impossible to feel total escape. To attend a sporting event is to wish the world away, and also realize it could explode at any time. It has been this way since Munich. Atlanta, too. Definitely since 9/11. We are spectators in the age of terror. Perpetual witnesses. Perpetual potential victims. We stomp and cheer and carry on, roaring with lumps in our throats, knowing deep down that maybe, maybe, this time we won’t be so lucky. Someone will pull a gun. Or set off an IED. So it will go. The how will require painstaking, bloody forensics. The who will be pursued and punished. The why won’t matter. Does it ever? There will be a before, and an after, and the survivors — all of us — will be left to cope. To walk on. To run, even, with something approaching a kind of grace. One foot in front of the other.