My wife’s cousin Mike ran the Boston Marathon on Monday. He was running in memory of my wife’s brother Paul who died at age 3 of cancer, before my wife was even born. After months of training and fundraising for cancer research, Mike made it to the 25th mile before the police stopped him and everybody else still on the course from going any further. He and thousands of other runners never made it to the finish line. But thankfully, they made it home safely.
Actually, Mike and his family (wife, young daughter, sister, brother-in-law, and nieces) stayed at my house Monday night because they couldn’t go back to their hotel in Boston. The police had locked it down because it was part of the crime scene, located just a few steps away from where the first bomb exploded — a few steps away from where Mike’s family, including his parents, would have been standing and cheering when the bombs went off, if he had run a little faster.
We were left to wonder.
It was a beautiful morning yesterday, sunny and blue, and after breakfast, all the kids went outside to play, while the rest of us drank coffee and watched the news, and Mike and his dad drove to Boston to collect his medal and belongings. A few hours later, Mike and his family boarded a plane back home to Maryland, the others drove back home to Connecticut, and I went upstairs to my study and sat by the window, silent and heartbroken.
I thought about my creative writing professor in college, and how he gave everyone the same advice to improve their short stories: put a death in it. It didn’t matter what you were writing about, whether it was a story about your first kiss or visiting your grandma on Sundays, there was no better way to create tension in a story than putting a death in it. But why put death where it doesn’t belong, I argued back.
Twenty four years later and I’m still waiting for the answer.