Saturday, April 20, 2013

Always Uncertain

The day after the Boston Marathon, I was rather surprised that my mother waited a whole ten minutes before she pulled me outside her classroom and asked whether I still planned to run the Broad Street in three weeks.

I have to hand it to her.  She asked; she didn’t tell.  

“I’m not sure, yet, Mom.”  I told her, honestly.  “I am pretty freaked out by it.”  Of course, everyone is affected by an event like this in her own way, but as a runner—a runner whose last marathon clocked in at 3:59 (close to the range of when the bombs went off, 4:09), I feel a kinship with those who were in the race.  The acute sense of it could have been me has been hard to shake.

“Well, there’s no point in taking an unnecessary risk.  What if something happens? You don’t want to lose a leg.”  So delicately put. 

If there is one person on this Earth who is more of a catastrophizer than me, it’s my mom.  Where else could I have learned my uncanny ability to envision the worst, to conjure the most terrible of fates, but at the foot of the master.

“No, I don’t.  But I also think there’s little chance that someone is out there is bombing road races.  There are many reasons why this race, as opposed to any other race, might have been targeted—it was Patriot’s Day, we’re coming up on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings….” 

“Yes, but PhiladelphiaBen Franklin…the Liberty Bell.”

“I hear you, mom….  But I just want to wait and see what happens—whether this was an isolated incident…the work of one person, or a whole network of people....” 

My mother gave me a pained look.

“I’m not saying I’m going to run it.  I’m just saying we’ll see….”  It is a phrase she used to use on me, when she wasn’t ready to give me an answer I didn’t want to hear. 

“I can’t control what you do, but I’m voicing my concern.”  She issues these final words and disappears back into her classroom.


At least she didn’t say what she always used to say when I was growing up:

“Do what you want.”

Do what you want is a Jewish mother dictum, passed down from generation to generation, meant to inspire guilt so immobilizing, it prevents one from doing what one wants. 

I think if the Broad Street was to get bombed, and I ran it and got hurt, she might have to bite her tongue off to avoid saying, I told you so.

But the truth of the matter is, she is my mother and even as I edge towards 43, she still wants to protect me.  Keep me safe.

And it makes me wonder.  What if Sophie wanted to run the Broad Street, just weeks after the Boston Marathon was bombed.  How would I feel about that?  What would I do? 

Another saying comes to mind:  Over my dead body.

Against all rational thought, this is what bubbles up for me.  The maternal instinct is fierce.  It inspires you to jam your fingers down your child’s throat when she swallows the content of a glow stick.  It makes you snap at children who stomp on your daughter’s sandcastle at the playground.  It’s what sends you flying into her room in the middle of the night when she cries out. 

But just because I am beset with this evolutionary drive, doesn’t mean that I should stand in the way of her living her life. Make her decisions for her.  Solve her problems for her.  Fight her battles.  Choose her path. 

Sometimes the instinct must be fought, or at least called into question. Because the fact of the matter is, the future is always uncertain.   I can only protect Sophia to a point.  As Kevin so rationally points out, there is a greater chance of us being killed in a car accident on the Turnpike, than being victims of terrorism at a local sporting event. 

When I was a child, every time we left my grandmother’s house she instructed my mother to give her “two rings,” when we got home, so she would know we made it okay.  My mother resented making those phone calls—she’d do it, but I can remember her saying, she drives all over the place all the time, what was the big deal about driving back from the Bronx. 

There was no big deal.  We always made it home.  Fear is manufactured.  So is our sense of control. 

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