Monday, April 21, 2014

Make Way for Marathoners

It's Patriots' Day in Boston, which means it's Marathon Day. It's a beautiful day for it. And after the horror of last year, the city, indeed the entire international running community, went all out to make certain that haters don't win, fear doesn't win – love wins. As part of that effort, Old South Church in Boston sponsored the Boston Marathon Scarf Project. The plan was to give every runner who attended a Blessing of the Athletes service a scarf to symbolize being wrapped in love and courage.

Old South Church is located just beyond the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It's a big, historic city church, first gathered in 1669. Every year it hosts a Blessing of the Athletes services, which this year coincided with Easter Sunday; dozens of church members participate in the marathon as runners or volunteers and dozens more work as first responders and healthcare professionals; its Great Bell announces the first male and female finishers of the marathon. Last year the church building was inside the crime scene tape and so was closed, but the work of the church went on in the streets and homes and hospitals of Boston. So when the call for scarves went out, I knit my bit.

Boston Marathon scarf

The organizers of the project are organized – they even specified the official Boston Athletic Association Pantone numbers (Yellow 109C and Blue 294C) for the scarf colors, but quickly relented and said any blue and yellow would do. I just used what several of the organizers used, Coeur Rouge Bright Yellow and Royal. Although in some photos it looks like BAA blue is closer to sky blue and BAA yellow is closer to lemon yellow.

No matter, word is the recipients loved them. Scarves were spotted worn around town at the Sports Illustrated cover shoot, adorning landmarks, on Doug Flutie, at carbo-loading dinners, even on the Mallard family in the Public Garden.

Mallard family with marathon scarves

The Mallard family out for a stroll in the Public Garden, wearing their marathon scarves. They later received custom-made race bibs, as seen on Harvard Dangerfield. Photo credit: Old South Church in Boston.

The runners are on the course as I write. Suffice to say I'm thinking of them. So let me repeat here a portion of John Edgerton's account of yesterday's blessing service:
Hundreds stood with heads held high to have our traditional words of blessing showered upon them, words drawn from the prophet Isaiah: may you run and not grow weary, walk and not faint. Aware of the fear that was engendered by last year's terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon, yet unwilling to bow before the power of death on Easter, we added another prayer. It was a prayer uttered from the depths of our souls for the 118th Boston Marathon runners: God will command the angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
Call it a churchy way of saying what the crowd was chanting at Heartbreak Hill, Mile 20, when the runners first enter the city, "Boston Strong! Keep going!"

ETA1: Runner's World published an online article on the Blessing of the Athletes service. I hear that of the runners who started, 98% finished, which surely is a record. I also hear that some runners who didn't get scarves have been asking for them, and a plan is TBA.

ETA2: After prayerful consideration, the scarf organizers decided not to continue collecting and distributing scarves. They intended the scarves to be a blessing and felt that to continue would be to turn them into a souvenir. It's a difficult concept for some to grasp – the difference between being a pilgrim and being a tourist – but as I have my own hopes for pilgrimage, I deeply respect the decision.

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