The Staten Island Runner

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September 21, 2001 


There was a bumper sticker that was popular back in the seventies, inspired by the burgeoning of the "sexual revolution", that read, and I quote, "If it's physical, it's therapy". The pun is obvious, but I wonder if the author had any idea how right s/he was. There's been a lot of research literature about the process of dealing with tragedy and with loss that points to physical activity as one of the best coping mechanisms around. Of course, if you're a runner, you knew about that way before the journals were published. The stories of those who run (or walk, or whatever) to cope with the loss of loved ones, or their own serious illnesses, are legion.

In the aftermath of the horror of the events of September 11th, I know that many of you have not felt like getting out the door at all. I empathize. The magnitude of the situation, and, for many of us, the personal blow of knowing there are family and friends that we will never see again, are profoundly immobilizing. And very often, if we are not frozen with sadness or guilt or fear, the only action we can take is motivated by searing anger and a thirst for revenge. (Let's not give in to that.) I am sympathetic to those race organizers who have felt they had to cancel events in the wake of this tragedy, especially events scheduled only a few days after. The logistics of road races are never easy, and they become nightmarish now, with road closings and checkpoints and the like; many organizers and volunteers, especially those in the uniformed services, have more important jobs to do right at this moment; and there is the feeling that we would some how be dishonoring those we've lost by going on with our playtime so soon afterwards. But there is another aspect to this.

Running, and yes, racing, are perhaps among the best ways to honor the fallen, to celebrate our freedom, and to reaffirm our dignity. For the many who have difficulty with articulating their feelings, they may be the vehicles for regaining a sense of control over shattered lives, or for finding at least some temporary release from the grinding sadness. Remember, too, that races are a great tonic for reaffirming our common humanity-it does not matter if you are vanilla, chocolate, or pistachio when you get to the starting line, only how fast you can move. In the wake of the troubling incidents reportedly directed at those in our neighborhoods of Middle Eastern ancestry, and/or who are Muslim, but who are as American as anyone (often having themselves fled the repressive regimes that shelter and aid this fanatical terrorist minority), that would probably be a good thing to be reminded of.

We cannot live in fear. That is what terrorists want. It is exactly the point of their actions-to disrupt our daily activities and to have us looking over our shoulders (and accusing indiscriminately). As much as is possible, we have to get on with the boring, mundane, ordinary details of life. If we do, then they cannot win. It's not easy, especially for those who have lost people close to them. (I lost a cousin and two NYRROA members in the World Trade Center.) But it needs to be done. Not in a callous way, not in an indifferent way, but in a resolute way, because freedom, and decency, and justice demand it. The memories of all those we have lost demands it. Participating in a race, or getting out for that run, may be one of the most effective statements one individual can make against this type of terrorism.

So go out and run. Go out and race. Or, volunteer. Let's make sure all our remaining events can go on as scheduled. Let's honor the fallen at them, but let's not lose sight that in so doing, and in otherwise doing what we came to do, we're also honoring ourselves, and pushing back the darkness a bit. I will be at the Rosebank Run for the Roses on October 8th, undoubtedly grumbling about how many registrants forget to put their ages on their applications. I hope to see you there.

--Glenn Ribotsky/NYRROA