One of the great joys of my life was running in Central Park. Regardless of the season, Fredrick Olmstead's patch of constructed nature in the middle of the great bustling metropolis is a work of continuous wonder, an oasis of almost instantaneous calm. I mostly ran the track surrounding the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir, but getting there from home meant first moving through a good section of the park. In the winter, when the track was either muddy or icy, I ran the perimeter road that encircles the park's entire 778 acres. Living only blocks away, the park was always integral to my life. Long before my late start at running, my daily routine included a refreshing trek from West to East on my way to work. I got to know the place pretty well.
In the late days of Autumn Central Park is a buzz with activity and anticipatory excitement. Work crews begin preparations for the New York City Marathon, held on the every first Sunday in November. Bleachers are erected adjacent to the park drive near the iconic Tavern on the Green. A bridge-like structure emerges spanning the road at what will be the finish line. Parallel to all the physical preparations, the number of park runners, some in the final stages of training, increases. Each day is measured by progress and signs of the race that will soon upon us. As the first Sunday of November draws closer, I find myself running along side people speaking with a wide range of regional American accents and a multitude of languages. Unlike me, these are real runners. I can't possibly keep up but they provide an incentive to do better, if only in my own mind. Every year it's the same, an annual rite of passage the City and the park.
I no longer live in New York, no longer am part of this autumnal ritual. Before Ieaving my running had already morphed into speed walking I now do. It's easier on the body, but much less fun. This past November's NY Marathon was literally washed out by Super Storm Sandy. To be sure, Central Park stood at the ready but a violent act of nature robbed the city and the runners of their glory and joy. For obvious reasons I was thinking about this throughout the past week. Less obvious was that what happened in Boston also brought to mind one of my most memorable experiences in making my way around the reservoir. It was on a particularly glorious and crystal clear day when a fellow runner stopped me to report that a plane had hit the twin towers. It was September 11, 2001.
The other marathon — Bostonians would call New York's "the other marathon — got off the ground and for four hours ran smoothly. Patriots' day couldn't have been more festive: excellent weather, the Red Sox winning their specially timed morning game and a stream of dedicated runners. And then, in an instant a man made storm full of sound and fury. Perhaps it lacked the dramatic destructive power of 9/11 but tell that to the three families who lost a loved one or to the innocents who have lost legs or who are still fighting to recover some semblance of health. To be sure, what happened at the marathon was no 9/11, not even close. While we still no little there seems to be no link to a larger conspiracy, no Osama bin Laden in the picture. Yet we got another reminder last week of the kind of violence that has come to characterize our lives in the twenty-first century. In our time, so much damage is inflicted on us by individuals rather than by governments or even movements. It was more than ironic — no it was infuriating — that the Senate killed even the most modest attempts at gun control just a day after Boston. As we have now learned, the brothers Tsarnaev were armed to the teeth not only with homemade bombs but with unregistered fire arms and plenty of ammunition. Maureen Dowd in a piece called No Bully in the Pulpit blames the President who, while doing a lot to bring the public arouind, didn't coddle or arm twist enough legislators. Nonsense. It seems if Obama concentrates on the Hill, he's blamed for not engaging the American people and if you does that he's blamed for engaging Congress. The fact is that any senator who wasn't moved to act after all the Newtown’s we've seen in the last years has no excuse. These are adult elected officials with responsibilities to fulfill are they not? They are the ones who should be ashamed.
What's striking about our modern violence — what happened in both Boston and the Newtown's — is that it always seems to be directed at totally innocent people. Just as are large magazine empowered assault weapons, bombs are designed to harm multiple victims. This time around they were put in place precisely when the most people would be gathering at the finish line. This is something about which government and law enforcement officials should be deeply concerned, but even more so something each of us should take personally. This isn't some theoretical war against terrorists; it's a battle being engaged for the most part by individuals against you and me.
The mantra voiced by NRA types that, "guns don't kill, people do", has worked as a slogan because it contains a literal grain of truth. But people can't kill the way they do, can't kill the innocent, if they don't have guns. The gun lobby says that gun safety laws are meant to undermine the Second Amendment, that we want to take their guns away. The truth is that guns should be denied and indeed taken away from the irresponsible, a word that I use in the broadest sense. I don't happen to think we should own guns, but recognize that our right to do so is built into the Constitution and moreover that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible. That doesn't mean that the presence of a gun doesn't increase the chances that it may one day inflict harm — often self-harm. What is incomprehensible to me is that gun owners shouldn't welcome universal registration, shouldn't see that we all have a right to be protected by it. No one can drive a car in this country without a license. Licensing hasn't stopped us from owning cars.
What happened in Boston was tragic and disheartening. What happened in Washington during the same week was outrageous (there can be no excuse) and even more disheartening. This may be a great country — the people in Boston bore witness to that — but we're not in a great place right now.