I am often brought to my emotional knees by displays of humanity, specifically in the form of unity or support. I have learned to choose my eye make-up carefully when attending the Heritage of Pride parade every July. The marching NYPD and FDNY always destroy me as I know my history and recognize the gravity of the solidarity. This summer I was brought down by the mother riding on the back of her daughter’s motorcycle while holding a sign proclaiming her pride in her daughter. Humans supporting humans, be it strangers, family or friends, just plucks at my heartstrings. Yet knowing this somehow did not fully prepare me for the emotional avalanche of watching the NYC Marathon at the finish line.
I think that it is safe to assume that for every runner, there is a story. No one runs a marathon on a whim. I certainly expected the city flair which was on display with running; chickens, Elvis, superheros, inflatable sumo wrestler suits, ballerinas, clowns, Blues Brothers and the like. But the degree to which runners were being bolstered (physically and spiritually) by strangers, friends, and partners was surprising. I stood next to a man who shouted words of encouragement to every person who ran past him with a name written on their shirt. He did this for an hour. “You can do it Amy.” “You’re almost there big Sal.” “Dig deep Carl, dig deep.” I lost count of the couples holding hands as they walked/stumbled and dragged each other to the end. There were many “teams” running together and more often than not, there was one member being held up while others slowed their pace in order to stay together. One man collapsed with an injured leg and could no longer walk. Marathon volunteers picked him up and carried him to the finish line. I saw a young woman holding a rope tied to an old man. I saw runner guides leading disabled runners. I lost count of how many pairs of runners had their arms around one another’s waist. There was a military “no one gets left behind” determination on their faces. As the sun set and the crowds of spectators thinned, a race organizer took to the microphone and yelled inspirational messages (in a good way.) She told the runners that they were just a block away from the moment they’ve been waiting for and one that they’ll never forget. She did this for hours. In the dark.
It was a moving and inspirational day for this non-marathoner. I tried not to focus on the anomaly of the outpouring of support and instead simply revel in it. Parades, marathons, snowstorms, disaster, they bring out our best. It’s not that we choose to not be our best everyday, it’s that most of us simply don’t have that kind of stamina.