At 8:00 am, Sunday 14th April 2013 (Indian Standard Time) as we were having breakfast at the Hyatt Hotel in Goa, on our annual holiday, Aryan my 11 year old son, spoke up and said to me, "Papa, the people having breakfast at the table behind us are runners". "Why do you say so?" I asked him without looking back. "Because they look like runners and the man has a water bottle in which he has filled some juice instead of water and only a runner would do that, besides they just look like runners" he answered.
A few minutes later, the gentleman passed me and sure enough, he was wearing a T-shirt which said, "ING New York City Marathon". I caught his eye and asked him, "Did you run New York?"
It seems he had run New York...a few times... 26 times to be precise and Boston and the Western States 100 miler too. In fact, he had run a total of 226 marathons in all. His wife Doreen was also an accomplished runner. Victor and Doreen were Americans visiting Goa on vacation.
Over the next two days Victor and Doreen became part of our family. We shared the breakfast table and laughed and spoke and shared stories of races run all over the world. Victor invited us to run the Texas marathon and stay over at his home, we invited them to run the Mumbai marathon and stay over at our home. We had just added new members to our family.
On Tuesday 16th, at 5:00 am (ISD), as I sat in bed and watched CNN, I didn't know what to do. I was supposed to go for a run but I was distraught with grief and could not believe what I saw unfold at the Boston Marathon.
How could I go out and run on a beautiful beach in Goa while my extended runner family in Boston was suffering.
In those early hours after the marathon bombing, I had seen the pictures of Jeff Bowman Jr. being pushed in a wheel chair and I had seen what had been left of his legs. My heart went out to him and I wanted to be there alongside him and share my good health with him. I wanted him to have his legs back.
I sat on the bed disoriented reading early reports of an 8 year old child having been killed. I now know that not only did a father lose his 8 year old son Martin Richard that day, but also that his daughter lost a limb and that his wife suffered brain injuries. I wanted to be with that family, to hug them and share all my life's blessings with them.
Both Jeff and Martin were simply spectators waiting for their loved ones to finish the race.
I have had my wife and son and daughter and sisters and parents and the rest of my family stand on so many finish lines for me. They have stood there laughing, supporting and celebrating my run. These families were no different than mine. How could this be happening to them?
I don't know how to express my grief. I don't know how to grieve for these runners whom I love and regard as my own. How can I tell them that I feel and share their pain? How can I take away their sorrow? I have never met them personally but I know them intimately. As fellow runners, we have shared and experienced extremely strong emotions and passions which bond us together for life.
I sat on bed wondering if I should go for a run on a tragic day like this. How do I grieve? How do I mourn the loss of their lives? How do I mourn for the loss of their legs? I spend an inordinate time of the day worrying about mine...and now so many have had theirs amputated.
I decided to go for a run so that I could cry and weep and mourn in solitude. And as I ran, I cried and wept and mourned not only for the lives and limbs lost but also because I felt helpless with my inability to help them. I am truly at a loss of what I can do to help. I can attend prayers, send flowers, donate money for hospital costs, attend candlelight vigils, resolve to run the Boston Marathon... yes, but that is not enough. What I want is for them to have their lives and limbs back to normal. I feel helpless as far as that is concerned.
I find it hard to simply move on in my life because my fellow runners and their loved ones have lost their lives and limbs because of a senseless and barbaric terrorist act.
Death comes to all of us but this was senseless violence. People say that the terrorists win if they make us change our way of life. They say that we must move forward, that we must show resilience. It is easy to say these things when the people affected are not your own immediate family. My continuing to run helps me but does not help either Martin or Jeff.
I don't have an answer but I do know that I have to make the transition from mourning to simply feeling sad. Because if I continue to mourn, then I will simply continue to be bitter, to complain and I will lose the gratitude for this gift of life which was given to them and which has been given to me.
I do not know why each person is born and why death comes to him at a particular time. We have never had a choice about being born. We simply show up. Life is a gift. The fact that one exists is itself a miracle because the world could have gone on very well without me and without you.
At some point of the run on Tuesday, I stopped crying and simply felt sad. Sadness perhaps is better than crying because sadness sometimes gives us some time and space to reflect.
As I ran, I felt that I must seize the time that is left in my life. Death often comes suddenly and in any form and I must prepare for it and I think the best way to prepare is to live each day well.
A prayer says, "God, give us our daily bread" and perhaps the operative word in the prayer is: "daily". The prayer probably means that we must focus on each day of our lives and not worry about tomorrow. Perhaps if I live each day to its fullest and to its true potential I will be prepared for my death when it comes. And so until that day comes the best thing to do is focus on all the things I enjoy, to be grateful for my wonderful life, to love my family, to help as many fellow humans as I can, to share the joy of running, to do my bit to help increase the flock of runners, to love my extended family of runners and tell them that I love them and yes...to keep on running.
On Tuesday evening, we saw off Victor and Doreen at the airport as they left on a connecting flight to Texas. We hugged each other and I felt sad to be leaving them but happy for having met them.
As we left the terminal building, Aryan asked me, "So Papa, you think we will meet them again?" "Aryan buddy, have no doubt", I answered, "They are a part of our family and we will meet them again 100%. We will be running a race together in some city somewhere in the world sooner than you think."