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So sad. So inspired.

April 16, 2013
Assam Alwash, Goldman Prize winner from Iraq.

Assam Alwash, Goldman Prize winner from Iraq.

Yesterday was some day, huh?  I had been planning to write about my last training ride but other stuff seemed more pressing.

Around noon, I got the news about the Boston Marathon explosions and went through an emotional process that has become far too routine of late.

  1. Check Facebook and Twitter for breaking news to get a sense of what’s up.  See photos I wish I hadn’t seen.
  2. Think of all the people I know who might be there, or have family there.  Ping them to ask whether they/their families are okay.
  3. While waiting for confirmation of folks’ safety, freak out with my coworkers.
  4. Go back on Facebook and Twitter until another photo-I-wish-I-hadn’t-seen makes me stop.
  5. Try, distractedly, to resume work, but fail.

The Marathon hit close to home in a few ways.  I am from New England and for a long time as a child I thought the Boston Marathon was the ONLY marathon.  As an athlete, I’ve considered trying to qualify.  I have family in Boston; my friends have family in Boston.  A close friend from high school just moved to Cambridge about two weeks ago and one of my grad school friends is a rower living in Boston who I could picture running 26.2.  A close co-worker is training to resume running marathons and had a bunch of friends in the race.  We talked about whether future races would have heightened security and how un-fun that would be.

So, bad day.  All my people were safe.  Some people were not.  It makes me really sad.

I also got a bit shaken up by friends who posted reminders that bombs go off in other countries.  I know this.  I am not a fan of U.S. military actions abroad.  And I don’t find it either strategic or compassionate to talk about that for at least one day following a U.S. tragedy.  Yes, we are super lucky to not live in fear of bombing every day like people in Palestine or Afghanistan.  I completely agree.  But because of that privilege, we get really shocked and sad, and not so open to political commentary, when such things do happen.

I do not believe that mourning innocent American deaths diminishes our capacity for mourning innocent deaths in other countries.  We just don’t all have the capacity to do both at the same time, so the international perspective when a domestic tragedy is fresh comes off to me like “Suck it up.”  Which is not going to help people who are (rightfully) sad see your point of view at that moment, and will quite possibly turn them off to you entirely in the long run.

I would like to reserve the right to be sad about isolated U.S. tragedies and also understand and mourn for the U.S.-sanctioned, U.S.-funded, U.S.-blatantly-caused tragedies in other countries.  I am a complex human being with a deep capacity to access Sad – not to mention Anger, Indignation, and Frustration.  I just prefer not to do it all at once, because the amount of unnecessary and wrongful death and suffering in this world is, shall we say, A Lot.

Luckily for me, yesterday also contained an opportunity to access Hope: the Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony.

Every few years I get a ticket to what I’ve been describing to people as “the Academy Awards of environmentalists.”  The Goldman Prize goes to six people from around the world each year, who have led amazing efforts to defend the environment, as well as fight for social justice.  Sometimes the award has been presented posthumously to people who have taken on such big enemies that they’ve been assassinated.  The award ceremony sometimes includes Robert Redford, in person. (This year he just narrated the videos and we got Philippe Cousteau as emcee.)

This year, I scored a few tickets so Peter and little A came along.  That meant that I got to see the first half, we all watched the musical interlude (awesome Korean drumming!!), and then Peter watched the second half.  A was done with the dark theater scene within five minutes, but did enjoy wandering around the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House.  We knew it wouldn’t be her thing, but I’d like to think that a teensy bit of all that hopeful, activist energy sunk in.

My favorite moment of (the first half of) the night was a comment that winner Azzam Alwash of Iraq made at the end of his intro video.  “Dream big,” he said. “First of all, it’s free.  Second of all, it’s possible.”

There are many places on earth where I would imagine that hope and dreams must fight their way off of the dusty earth and struggle to take flight.  Iraq is one of them.  If people there can bring back a wetland that was drained and burned under Saddam Hussein’s regime, we can rise up from the events in Boston, and so much more.

Thank you, Goldman Prize, for helping to balance out my Patriot’s Day.  My thoughts today are with the people of Boston, and with all those people and living things suffering around the world.

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