Boston Marathon 2013: The Day After

Lee Pelton, President, Emerson College
Cutler Majestic Theatre
April 17, 2013

As prepared for delivery.

It began as a perfect day for a long run.

Not too hot, not too cold. Men and women, young and old, different shapes and different sizes representing the many hued people that make up humankind, some running, some walking and others propelled forward in wheelchairs set off on a charmed pillgrammage of endurance and triumph, 26.2 miles from our door steps.

Having run that race in it’s 100th running, I know the preparation it requires, the exhiliration it bestows on the runners and the respect it draws from its audience.
It is one of my favorite days of the year, a day that connects me to the great city that I have loved for more than two score years.

I woke that morning, thinking of a poem that I know by heart:

Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow…
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

it reads, in part.

And then, in a instant, it seemed, everything changed: two blasts, seconds apart, putrid white smoke, flying, tissue-piercing projectiles of nails and metal pellets, three dead, many more injured, ear drums traumatized, shattered glass and shattered lives.

Shock slowly gave way to pain and grief and suffering and anger and guilt and sadness and confusion and then love and compassion and emotions that have no name set in.
And we – its other surviors – are left here, to paraphrase the poet, as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight with neither joy, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.

Yesterday was a day of reflection and self-healing for our community and for ourselves.

But, today and every day that follows will test the true measure of who we are and what we stand for.

For many of us, Monday, April 15, will forever be a point of reference, a marker for our years at Emerson.

Many of us felt perhaps a new vulnerability - a new way of viewing not only our connection to the world, but our place in it.

And yet that day should not define us.

We learned that we are part of the involuntary life that makes up the world and that we can neither look out on it from our luxurious shelter nor can we hide our eyes in selfish complaining.

We are Emerson College and Emerson College is us.

We are the story-tellers, we are the builders of human hopes and aspirations and yes, of failures. We are the magic makers, the myth makers. We are the truth tellers.

The creative spirit runs through our veins and in our hearts.

We know that redemption and salvation begins with one true sentence.

We believe with Martin Luther King that “unarmed truth and unconditioned love will have the final word in reality….We believe that what self-centered [people] have torn down, other-centered [people] can build up” through the power of truth seeking, soul healing stories of honesty and authenticity.

But let us also be resilent and yes, defiant. Resilent in the afterglow of suffering and pain. And defiant in the face of evil and destruction.

Let us, you and I, beginning today, look through the confusion of the moment and create out of this tide of human despair, pain and want, a sea of joy and light.
This is what we do at Emerson. This is who we are. This is our everlasting legacy to each other, to this great, great city, to the nation and to the world.

For history instructs us that when Emerson meets its challenges head on with honesty, integrity and a commitment to doing what is right, we will come together, we will work together, we will pray together, we will hope together, we will reach the other side together and we will stand united as one community with hope and confidence in who we are and what we stand for.

I know this to be true. It must be.