The words of the Bible played through Raj Patel's mind as he looked for his family at the Boston Marathon finish line.
He was waiting for Mile 26.1, where his family was standing next to the bleachers on Boylston Street. He saw them and blew a kiss.
His audio Bible was playing on his iPod nano — Psalm 119.
“Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.”
He crossed the finish line in a personal record 3 hours, 19 minutes. He found his family. They hugged, took photographs and rushed back to their hotel room. They were on a tight schedule to make a flight back to Tulsa, where Patel is a dentist.
As he got ready, his wife and children heard the first blast. They ran to the window, 23 stories above the street, in time to see the second explosion disrupt the Boston Marathon. The wounded lying on the ground, surrounded by blood and debris, were in the exact spot the Patel children were cheering for their father just 20 minutes before.
Patel's 12-year-old son, Syon, immediately began to cry, followed shortly by his 15-year-old daughter. His wife began to pray.
This was previously a race of profound experience. This was the city of Boston cheering for bib numbers and names of runners they never met. This was 26.2 miles of packed streets and constant encouragement. That was until Monday when two explosions went off near the finish line of Boston's marathon, when it shook not just the runners and spectators, but the city of Boston and the nation.
The Boston Marathon, though, is a special race for a city that creates an incredible race-day atmosphere. Children are given the day off school, the Red Sox play in the afternoon and the city of Boston celebrates Patriots' Day. Now, this marathon will stand for even more. Boston vowed to rise and run again.
Raj Patel is a determined marathon runner, who has run 16 marathons in two years and lives his life for God. He is already preparing for his next 26.2-mile run: The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. He'll be at the Oklahoma City National Memorial early next Sunday morning along with thousands of other runners.
Last year, he missed qualifying for Boston by four seconds, so when he qualified this year and ran his first, he ran through the neighborhoods of Boston where spectators enjoyed barbecues and picnics. Patel wore a white shirt with the word “GRACE” written on the front above the words “Unearned. Undeserved. Unmerited”.
He ran listening to the book of Matthew, Mark, John and the Psalms, but he could hear people shouting, “C'mon, Grace!”
“When I run, it's my time with God and nature,” Patel said. “It's my time when I don't worry about money or business and I pray for patience, but I loved the crowd support. I could hear them through my Bible and I had it on full blast.”
From Hopkinton to Ashland, Framingham to Natick, Wellesley to Newton, Brookline to Boston, spectators took pride in runners and runners took pride in spectators.
At the end of a race, the common questions are “How did you finish?” and “How do you feel?” Monday, those questions never really came.
Raj Patel learned that his personal-best race was immaterial. The news that his time automatically qualified him for the marathon next year became no big deal.
“Every life matters,” he said. “A life is so much more important than a run.”
Raj Patel and his family were able to get out of Boston quickly. They paid a taxi driver the extra money he asked for in order to make their flight. As the taxi driver navigated roads of Boston that weren't yet shut down, the Patel family saw runners with blood gushing out of their legs.
“You're not coming back next year, are you?” Syon, Patel's son, asked through tear-filled eyes. Then he became more emphatic and told his father: “You're never racing in a marathon again. You don't need to be running them anymore.”
Patel smiled at his son and disagreed: “That isn't how we face fear, son. We come back stronger, better, faster and healthier. This is the time that we need to let them know we are not afraid.”
Each morning last week, the father showed the son how to overcome fear. He laced up his shoes and ran, rejoining his time with God that he said gives him the strength to continue running. That's why the back of his shirt at the Boston Marathon was so important for other runners, race supporters and his son to read.
1 Corinthians 1:8.
“He will give you the strength to the end.”