Tragedies and a Bucket of Mindfulness

It has been a rough week, both for myself individually, and for our country. Frankly, I’m exhausted.

It’s taken a long time for me to be able to call myself this, but yes, I am a runner. My friends are runners too. So many runners hold the Boston Marathon sacred. Running it is their life-long goal. I know how much dedication and how many years of training it took these runners to qualify and to run this race. They want to run, not because they are going to win, but for the personal glory of achieving a lifetime goal. Running a marathon is the kind of life goal that, after you do it, your life will never be the same again. Running Boston is the highest actualization of that goal.

The bombs set off at the finish line seemed to be perfectly timed to target the ordinary people- these EveryMan runners and their friends and families. The bombs weren’t timed to disrupt the lives or the careers of the elite runners who finish the race in mind-boggling times… thankfully they remained safe. These bombs were timed to exact maximum carnage exactly when the ordinary people would be finishing. When an ordinary runner crosses that line into achieving their extraordinary dream. When their friends and families are gathered at the finish line to bear witness their accomplishment. And so many more runners had their dreams cut abruptly short- they never even got to lay their eyes on the finish line they had been visualizing for so long. The events of that day were so incredibly senseless and cruel. It has been truly heartbreaking. They attacked my family. I will probably never understand why.

I have cried for the lives that were lost. But this is the one image I have not been able to shake. Among the photos that have been circulating online is one of a young man whose lower legs were blown off by the blast. A stranger wearing a cowboy hat rushed to his assistance, applied a tourniquet to his legs, and got him into a wheelchair. In the photo he is being rushed to an ambulance. In one particular version of the photo (which I will not link to)– his legs are gone- the bloody stubs of his tibia and fibula bones sticking out- that is all that remains of his calves. That is the image that has stayed in my head and kept me awake at night. You’re not supposed to see those bones sticking out like that. I’m not sure I will ever forget it.

(The man in the photo is Jeff Bauman, Jr., and the stranger in the cowboy hat who helped him is Carlos Arredondo. Jeff was standing at the finish line to watch his girlfriend run. Both of his legs were amputated. Carlos was waiting for the last of the National Guard runners running for a charity called Run for the Fallen Marine. You can read more about Jeff and Carlos’ stories here and here. And if you want to understand more about “my people” read this.)

And that was not enough tragedy to absorb in one week. Next came an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. 50 buildings were leveled by the blast. Now we are learning that the majority of the people killed by the blast were volunteer firefighters and EMTs. At least 10 first responders are among the dead. Again, just as happened in Boston, these are the people who ran into a tragedy, not away from it. Their lives were sacrificed for the lives of others. It has been a tough week for first responders.

The week ended with mind-boggling images of an iconic American city under martial law. A bustling metropolis was locked down and deserted while law enforcement searched for the bombing suspects. If this had been a movie, people would have criticized it for being unrealistic. I mean, really, how do you shut down a major American city like Boston for a day? But two young men did just that.

I had my own stresses this week. They pale in comparison to these tragedies, but they were important and they needed my focused attention. I needed to get my mind off things so that I could attend to immediate issues that will have a huge impact my future. So I turned off the TV, walked away from the internet, silenced my cell phone, and spent an hour or so playing with a bucket of golf balls.

I thought I’d just go hit a bucket of balls because it would be a nice distraction. I invited a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while to go to the driving range with me. We were just going to hang out and relocate some balls… to take them out of their organization in a bucket and re-distribute them out into the field at the range. I’d be a tool for entropy in the universe.

I didn’t know ahead of time how I would benefit from it. But something else happened, it was good: Each one of those balls was an opportunity for a mindfulness practice. For single-point focus. You can’t hit a golf ball well if you are thinking too much. You can’t hit a golf ball well if you are distracted by your cell phone or your divorce attorney or worries about your future or senseless tragedies or domestic terrorism. It’s just you, a few sticks, and some balls. Keep your head down, keep your body still, and hit them. And maybe if you have a little pent-up aggression or excess nervous energy, you can hit them a little harder. If you do it right, they will go higher and farther. If you don’t do it right… well, you’re in luck. There’s a whole bucket of second chances right in front of you. Hit another one.

When I was done, my mind was clearer. Unexpectedly… I discovered that I had restored some part of myself that had become depleted. I could now go back and deal with the rest of it… the divorce attorneys, the financial advisors, the concerns about my future. And I even had a little more left so that I could cope with senseless tragedies and domestic terrorism.

All of that treasure was hidden inside a bucket full of golf balls. Who’d have thunk it?

I’d really like to buy a bucket of balls for all the law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and others who ran into the tragedies this week. Thank you for your service.

a bucket full of golf balls

Hit every single one of them.




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