Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon

Today’s normally scheduled hilarious someecard post has been deferred for another week, for today marks an incredibly important day in Boston, in Massachusetts, and in New England.

Because today is Patriot’s Day, and the annual running of the Boston Marathon.  After last year’s tragic events, it seems inappropriate to make a marathon joke in my honest opinion.  I can only hope that today’s marathon goes as smoothly as possible.  And while the city and the media have taken the past week to reflect on last year’s bombing, I’d like to take a few minutes.

I’ll admit that writing this post is emotionally harder than I expected.  It’s hard to explain how a tragedy in one’s city can affect you even if you don’t know anyone personally affected.  The disruption of the sense of security and safety during the day of the bombing and the chilling quiet during the city’s subsequent shutdown will linger in the hearts and minds of every citizen of Boston, and to that feeling, I am not immune.  But I also remain overwhelmed by how Boston responded to this tragedy.  Bostonians are not known to be a warm, bubbly, and friendly population, but the reaction to the marathon bombing proved that our harder exteriors mask a caring and compassionate core.

I think the best way to commemorate the people we lost, those who were affected, and the way life changed that day is through reflecting on the words spoken during that terrible week.  On my tenth Marathon Monday, my own comments from last year still ring loudly.

…Standing on the streets of our city next to friends, neighbors, and strangers alike, cheering on runners from around the world.  Marathon Monday is a day when college rivalries dissolve, and Red Sox and Yankees fans stand next to one another, offering ‘high-fives’ to people facing the holy grail of athleticism head on.  It is a day where the people of Boston remember why we love this town so much.

For a single day each year, the world focuses its attention on our beautiful city.  And it is a limelight in which we revel.  We are not a London or Paris or New York City; the spotlight does not always shine on us.  We are a small city, but we are an intensely proud one.  We are a city of academics and students, doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, athletes and champions.  We are a city that has faced adversity in the past – the Boston Marathon is run on the very day commemorating the brave patriots who fought British aggression on the battlefields outside of Lexington and Concord.  We are a city that mourned with our fellow Americans on 9/11, saddened further that our fair city was the origin for two of those doomed flights.  We are a city with a storied past, a history well known.

To all of the first responders – police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and EMTs, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your courage and diligence.  To the runners who finished the race and turned back to help or ran to local hospitals to donate blood – you truly are superhuman.  To the citizens of our city who opened up their hearts and homes, thank you for showing the world what Boston is truly all about.  And to the families that are mourning – know that we are hurting with you.

To the person or persons who perpetrated this cowardly act, you have messed with the wrong town.  You have gravely miscalculated how our city responds to violence that kills and injures innocent bystanders, especially when it comes to our children.  For when you perpetrate acts of terror against Boston, you are dealing not only with our city but with all of New England.  One only need to hear a speech from our mayor or attend a Boston sporting event to know that we proudly and fiercely defend her.  We are a town that does not easily forgive and never forgets.  We may talk a lot of trash in this town, but trust and believe that our bark is nowhere near as bad as our bite.

President Obama’s words reminded us of how good this city is, and the need to carry on.  His words forecasted the remarkable moment after the Red Sox won the World Series, and cheering indeed returned to Boylston Street.

But we also come together today to reclaim that state of grace, to reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted and the spirit of the country shall remained undimmed. [...] You showed us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love. [...] In the words of Dick Hoyt, who has pushed his disabled son Rick in 31 Boston marathons, we can’t let something like this stop us. This doesn’t stop us. And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us, to push on, to persevere, to not grow weary, to not get faint even when it hurts. [...]  We carry on. We race. We strive. We build and we work and we love and we raise our kids to do the same. And we come together to celebrate life and to walk our cities and to cheer for our teams when the Sox, then Celtics, then Patriots or Bruins are champions again, to the chagrin of New York and Chicago fans. The crowds will gather and watch a parade go down Boylston Street. And this time next year on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon.

Bet on it.

But perhaps Governor Patrick Deval said it best in his speech during the interfaith service.

And I am thankful, maybe most especially, for the countless numbers of people in this proud City and this storied Commonwealth who, in the aftermath of such senseless violence, let their first instinct be kindness. [...] So, we will recover and repair. We will grieve our losses and heal. We will rise, and we will endure. We will have accountability, without vengeance. Vigilance, without fear. And we will remember, I hope and pray, long after the buzz of Boylston Street is back and the media has turned its attention elsewhere, that the grace this tragedy exposed is the best of who we are.

Amen Governor, amen.

May this year’s marathon truly show our ability to recover and repair, to rise and endure, to overcome adversity and demonstrate our will and strength.  To all the runners, may you run your hearts out and conquer your dreams.  To the friends and family members cheering them on, cheer louder than you have ever cheered before and show the world what we’re made of.  And to the thousands of people who call this city home and all those eagerly watching, may you all have an amazing and safe Patriot’s Day and Marathon Monday.  I certainly plan on being out there watching and cheering along with you.

common sense…

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…apparently isn’t all that common.

If you were sitting there thinking it would be really funny to tweet a message to one of the major airlines that could potentially viewed as a threat to national security, think again.  And I would argue there’s nothing funny about “joking” about terrorism or airlines given the events of 9/11.

Apparently, a 14 year old girl thought it would be a riot.  She tweeted the following to American Airlines:

@QueenDemetriax: @AmericanAir hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.

Naturally, American Airlines swiftly responded and quickly ruined the joke.

I highly doubt the FBI will be laughing…

our misfearing culture

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It has been said that we fear that which we do not know and do not understand.  But all too often, we engage in behavior known as “misfearing” – the term used to describe the human tendency to fear instinctively rather than factually.  Misfearing is pervasive in our culture, and its consequences on our collective health are staggering.

In February, Dr Lisa Rosenbloom touched on the subject of misfearing with regards to women’s health in a perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine.  A cardiologist by trade, Rosenbloom took an informal poll of her patients, asking them which health condition they thought was the number one killer of women.  Many of her female patients accurately reported heart disease to be the leading cause of death for women.  A fair number incorrectly said breast cancer.  One of her patients, a woman with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, said “I know the right answer is heart disease, but I’m still going to say breast cancer.”

The truth is that heart disease takes the lives of more women each year than all types of cancer combined, that it is in many ways preventable, and that despite what many women believe, multivitamins and antioxidants do not reduce the risk.  However, all the facts in the world cannot sway the opinion of a person who misfears, who determines their sense of risk based on not fact but feeling.  Certainly, there is some amount of ignorance involved, some amount of misunderstanding from patients or a general lack of knowledge.  I’m not implying that patients are not intelligent human beings, but rather physicians historically have done a particularly poor job of educating their patients.  But with more and more information available to patients at their very fingertips in the nanosecond or two it takes to use Google on a smartphone, where has our collective misfearing come from?

For breast cancer, the availability of that information may be the very problem.  As a society, we are constantly bombarded by health messages, and women in particular are assaulted by advertisements from groups like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which seems to have trademarked the color pink.  Women are constantly hearing about breast cancer and the importance of screening mammograms.  Many physicians view a woman at age forty as beginning her “right of passage” by obtaining the first screening mammogram.  There is no doubt that the message out there solidly directed at American women is to fear breast cancer, a message so pervasive that when the US Preventative Services Task Force recommended decreasing the frequency of mammography, there was a public outcry among doctors, women’s health experts, and women themselves.   Rosenbloom goes on to discuss how pervasive the fear of breast cancer is in our culture, asking

Have pink ribbons and Races for the Cure so permeated our culture that the resulting female solidarity lends mammography a sacred status? 

Rosenbloom goes on to create a greater argument surrounding misfearing, culture, and personal identity with breast cancer as her prime example, but misfearing is far more prevalent than only women’s health issues.  Decades of research on risk perception have revealed the factors that feed our misfears, including those  that are big, dramatic, memorable, or constantly on our minds.  Misfearing is the reason that many of us horde guns to protect ourselves from random, senseless acts of violence that the media portrays as widespread, while we simultaneously fail to protect ourselves by buckling our seat belts.  Similarly, misfearing is to blame for those who refuse to fly for fear that the plane may crash but do not realize they are far more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the local grocery store.  We fear terrorists attacks and yet 15 percent of our population smokes regularly, misfearing our risks of heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

Perhaps the best example of misfearing comes from the controversy over autism and the belief that vaccines are to blame.  The rising anti-vaccination movement has concluded that the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses is directly linked to childhood vaccines, citing evidence that is dubious at best and has been discredited by every respectable scientific and medical society.  The same anti-vaxxer movement has been blamed for a rise in outbreaks of disease like measles and mumps, diseases that were considered eradicated in the recent past.  How did this come to be?  Simply put, diseases like measles and mumps have left our nation’s collective consciousness due to the incredible effectiveness of vaccines.  Unlike our parents and grandparents generation, who grew up in a time when childhood disease like measles, mumps, and polio had devastating, if not deadly consequences, a new generation of parents has been immune to the highly contagious infectious disease of our not so distant past and have instead come to fear autism’s devastating diagnosis.  Despite the evidence that vaccines do not cause autism yet protect children from deadly disease, parents continue to make the utterly baffling choice to refuse vaccines anyway.  The culprit here? Misfearing – and it’s leading to a deadly public health threat.

Rosenbloom laments that there isn’t much we can do about misfearing.  We can educate individuals to change the perception of their individual risk.  We can craft laws and regulations based on fact rather than feeling.  But while education and regulation in the world can sometimes nudge us toward behaviors that promote our health, they unfortunately cannot tell us what to believe.  Before we can reduce our own risk, we have to believe it exists in the first place.

every day Americans

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I’ve been known to get a little political on this blog every so often, and I fully admit to a more liberal stance on most issues although I like to think I’m fiscally more conservative.  Most of my friends are of the same political persuasion, with a few notable exceptions (including most of my family), so when heated political issues come up or election seasons comes around – it does sometimes feel like an “us versus them” battleground.  Then I saw this picture on Twitter the other day, and I started thinking (yet again) about what a mess our political system is and how it really doesn’t serve the very people who it’s supposed to.

I mean… what are we actually fighting for if in the end, it doesn’t actually help us out?

politics for every day American people

wait… what do you do again?

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Ever feel like no one else understands your job?  I will fully admit that when people tell me they are in “consulting” or “marketing”, I often have no idea what they are talking about.  If your job title doesn’t actually explain what you do – for example, teacher or lawyer – then I’m pretty much in the dark.

The feeling that other people have no idea what you do for a living stings a little bit more when the person who is clueless is one of your parents.  My job is fairly easy for my mother to grasp (surgeon), but I’m guessing she gets a little confused when it comes to what my two sisters do.  But don’t worry if mom or dad doesn’t understand your job title… you’re not alone.

35% of parents don’t understand what their adult child does for a living.

Yup… let that one sink in for a minute.  So if mom or dad does understand your job… consider yourself lucky.  And if not, don’t sweat it.