The opening ceremony of last summer’s Olympics featured a tribute to those who died in the London bombings of 2005, which took place on the day after the city had been awarded the 2012 Games. The tribute juxtaposed the contemplative calmness of the English hymn ‘Abide With Me’ and the frenetic movement of dancers dressed in blood red.
A similar frenzy of raw feelings was visible online after the bomb attack at the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday. The bomber and motive have yet to be discovered, though that will hardly make the event any more understandable.
Some of the runners writing online these past few days have suggested that a marathon course is somehow a sacred place, off limits to the malevolence and tragedy we see on the news every night. In truth, a marathon course is no more or less sacred than a commuter train, an office tower, a school or any other space where people come together in common enterprise and trust. Contrary to our instinct, in groups we are sometimes just as vulnerable as when we are alone.
The setting of the Boston attacks may have been unusual, but the act is sadly familiar. Just a few months ago, Americans saw the same sort of incomprehensible violence being visited on a classroom of children in Connecticut. And in September 2001 Boston was the departure point of two planes which were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York.
James Joyce ends the third chapter of Ulysses with the scene of Stephen Dedalus alone on Sandymount Strand, watching a ship sail in Dublin Bay – a lonely individual looking at a vessel that represents collective endeavour and co-operation. Ulysses, a book whose characters fizz with the grief of loss and the trauma of betrayal, suggests that life only has meaning when it is lived with others, and that the drama in our lives comes when this sense of community is distorted or broken – only by restoring it can we cope with the hard blows of life.
Today in London, people lined the streets to watch a funeral cortege for someone who once said “there is no such thing as society”. To disprove this statement, the very same streets will hold far greater crowds on Sunday, all watching a London Marathon in which competitors will wear a black ribbon to show solidarity with the residents and runners of Boston.
May everyone enjoy their day and get home safely.