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From celebration to heartbreak

Cape Town - As an American staying in South Africa, with the Internet connection in my apartment so slow as to be almost non-existent, I’m not always the first to hear the latest news from home. It took a friend telling me the news about the bombings in Boston on our walk on Tuesday to turn my day quite upside down.

The first things running through my head: a mental checklist of everyone I know in Boston; my friends at university there; the running fanatics I know who had been trying to qualify for the marathon; any family who may have been in the area. Once Facebook checks and emails confirmed that everyone was safe, I was able to focus on the horror of the bombing itself.

An electronic sign at the O.CO baseball stadium in Oakland, California, proclaims "We are all Bostonians". Credit: Associated Press

The Boston Marathon isn’t just a sporting event, especially not for the city’s residents. It’s always held on Patriots’ Day, a Boston holiday, and referred to as Marathon Monday. The day is a city-wide party. Thousands of people wake up early, crack a beer (or five), and line the streets for hours to cheer for the runners braving the hilly race.

I’ve never run a full marathon, but I’ve done a half. The feeling of crossing the finish line is amazing – a mixture of exhaustion, happiness and empowerment. For the Boston Marathon, people train for months just to qualify, fantasising about cresting the final “Heartbreak Hill” and finishing the race.

I can’t imagine that feeling being so quickly flipped into the terror and blood-smeared streets that I’ve been seeing in the news. I can’t speak for every American, but targeting the Boston Marathon feels like a personal violation - the perpetrators have taken a day of pride for an entire city and nation, and reduced it to tears, confusion and chaos. It’s no longer a day that anyone wants to remember. “Heartbreak Hill” has a whole new meaning.

I’m shocked, saddened and horrified, of course. But I’m also just so tired and angry with the mass shootings and acts of terror plaguing America.

This past year alone, we have seen a mass shooting at a cinema; the attack at a Newton elementary school that left 26 dead, mostly children; and now we watch as more than 170 injuries and at least three recorded fatalities unfold at an event supposed to be a culmination of athleticism and pride. It feels like being kicked repeatedly while we’re down.

I’m impressed with the resilience and strength that I already see coming out of Boston: the tales of people opening their doors for stranded runners, the heroic acts of policemen and firemen, residents coming together for vigils. But I have to admit: I’m sick of my nation constantly having to pick up its pieces.

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