Last Saturday morning, I woke up and realized it was the morning Scott was flying to Boston. I grabbed my phone and shot him a message: I'm praying for your safe travels and hope this journey brings some healing. It was fairly early, so I didn't anticipate a response. But not long after I sat my phone down it lit up with these words:
"Thanks. Just landed in Boston and the tears have already started. But, I am excited."
I'm not sure Scott knew how simply those words would capture not only what he was feeling having just arrived in Boston, but also the roller coaster ride of emotions that waited for him while he was there.
Boston itself was a sea of emotions and stories last weekend. Only a year removed from the bombings that shook the Boston Marathon, the city of Boston, and our country as a whole, it was a city of people rightfully on edge. But it was also a city joined together in a collective drum roll, waiting for the moment 35,000 runners would thunder through the streets of eastern Massachusetts proclaiming to the world that Boston can be bombed down but not bombed out. They were ready for the world to see Boston be Boston strong.
Scott and I had only been talking about his journey a few minutes when he made it clear how much he would give to have been left out of their story all together. He would have traded all the memorials and medals, the interviews and stories about a husband and dad and cop battling to be Meg Strong, for the story he and Meg had planned. A husband smiling and cheering on the sidelines for his wife, one runner among thousands racing to be Boston Strong.
That's not to say Scott doesn't appreciate the support. When he described meeting Kel Kelly, who constructed the Meg Menzies Soles of Love structure at the one mile mark of the marathon route, I felt Scott's appreciation for her, and for all who contributed to the project. It was one thing for Scott to see the outpouring of love at a similar memorial at Meg's accident site in Hanover, but it was quite another to see it so far from home. I think Kel Kelly put a face and a heart to the Megsmiles community. I think she gave Scott the hug the entire movement wanted him to have as we wished him luck on his last run with Meg. His tears are all you need to know about how that hug made him feel.
It was comforting to hear the trip wasn't all tears. Scott and a long time friend took in a Red Sox - Orioles game the night he arrived in Boston. Boys being boys, Scott and his buddy began heckling Orioles outfielder Adam Jones from their seats behind the Orioles dugout. One of the disadvantages of having seats that close to the field is the possibility the 6'2", 215 pound subject of your harassment might just hear you. When Jones made eye contact with Scott after one of his good natured pokes, Scott thought it better to turn his attention elsewhere.
Scott began a campaign to get one of the Orioles players to toss a ball to a young girl sitting in the seat next to him. She was attending the game with her mother, and when Scott saw the players tossing baseballs to other kids in the stands, he became determined this young girl would leave the park with one of her own. Soon the fans around him joined in his shouts to the Orioles, and before long the little girl next to him was wearing a big smile and holding a ball tossed to her from a professional baseball player. I can't imagine Scott's excitement over her gift sounding any more joyous if he'd been describing Gabriel, Whitfield or Skye holding it.
Easter was easily the hardest day of the journey. First and foremost, Scott spent Easter away from his kids, which to him made it feel like it wasn't Easter at all. On top of that, it was the first major holiday without Meg. I think Scott missed her, but on top of that, I think he realized Easter was a preview of many holidays to come.
It was also the day Scott had to pick up his number for the race. He said this was the hardest moment of the weekend. Standing in the presence of thousands of great athletes, Scott said he realized he didn't deserve to be there. Meg was worthy of this crowd; he wasn't. Meg had many dreams nested in running well in the Boston Marathon. Yet, Scott knew the only dream that would be accomplished in this race was his. Meg's dreams were now part of the memories that haunt and challenge Scott every day, and this challenge was one of his biggest yet.
When Scott started talking about actually running the race, he described it like one of those world class athletes he'd seen the day before. He detailed the layout of the course like Tom Brady might evaluate his throws after a big Sunday night game. He talked about the hills and his pace. He described the torture of not knowing if he was actually on heartbreak hill as the elevation began to rise, and the elation of running under the sign that finally declared he'd passed and survived it.
Scott also talked about overdressing for the race. He wore a race jacket the entire 26.2 miles. Meg would have had a fit, he told me. Meg always told him to dress as if the temperature was going to be 20 degrees warmer than it actually was. Scott refused to buy into that.
"When it's 40 degrees, it's cold. And I don't like to be cold," he said, rather emphatically.
So when he and Meg would go running in cool weather, Meg would always have on a running skirt and light shirt - Scott long pants and a jacket. He told me a local public utilities worker would invariably pass them on these days, and could never resist the opportunity to point out the general difference in the toughness level of that particular pair of runners.
Midway through the marathon, Scott reached into the pockets of his running jacket to grab the nutrition bars he'd brought for the race. They were gone. They'd bounced out of the jacket pockets onto the course somewhere along the way. He said he could just picture Meg pulling her hair out in heaven, shouting at anyone willing to listen to her that she'd told him he was overdressed. As I've come to know Meg through my conversations with Scott, I have a feeling she was grabbing a few of the folks who weren't willing to listen as well.
Scott said the crowd that lined the course the entire route was hard to describe. It was like running 26.2 miles inside a football stadium after the home team just scored a touchdown. "It would be impossible for someone to have a bad day if they were running in the Boston Marathon. The crowd just won't let you," he said.
I thought that was pretty telling coming from a guy who had every reason to be having a bad day.
There was a downside to the cheers. Scott had downloaded music from he and Meg's dating days - music they both loved - to listen to as he ran and took in all that she would have seen. But the roars of the crowd made that music difficult to hear at times.
The moments did grow somber as Scott approached the final tenths of a mile at the end of the course. Everything inside of him wanted to stop. Not because he couldn't physically finish the race, but because inside he didn't want the moment to end. He said he felt Meg pushing him, not just to finish it, but to finish it well. Don't mess this thing up. When he crossed the finish line, he pointed his hands to the sky and said - we did it. We got this.
Some time later, just seconds after all the runners had completed the race and the course had been cleared, Scott returned to the finish line hoping someone would take a picture of him with his medal, along with he and Meg's numbers. He was saddened to see the traffic had begun to flow and the prospects of getting his picture were dimmed. Scott noticed a man nearby and asked him if he would help him get the picture he wanted so badly. The man obliged. As Scott stood at the finish line in the middle of a temporary lull in the traffic, and the stranger was poised to take the picture, Scott noticed a man driving a pickup truck getting ready to turn toward them. Scott and the driver made momentary eye contact - a connection. The man slowly turned his truck toward Scott, blocking two lanes of traffic as he did so, buying Scott a little extra time for his picture. As the man drove on after the picture was done, the man stopped and rolled down his window, and with a thick Massachusetts accent, asked Scott if he'd gotten everything he needed. Scott told him he had, and the man drove on.
The good samaritan who took the picture of Scott stood there on the road and prayed with Scott after Scott told him about Meg and the accident.
When Scott told me the story about the finish line picture, I knew Meg must have been exhausted. Scott had finished running a couple of hours earlier, but Meg was still hard at work.
Scott left Boston with mixed emotions. He didn't want to leave the scene of all that happened that weekend, but he had never missed his kids as much as he had those 3 days, and he was ready to be back in Hanover County. When he got home, it was clear the feeling was mutual. His kids hugged him with those kind of kid hugs that say "dad, I really love you" instead of "dad I'm hugging you because I know you probably want me to." As a dad myself, hearing about these hugs made my night.
The next day Scott received an emotional welcome back from his fellow officers at the Ashland Police Department. It caught him off guard and it was a pretty emotional reunion. I suppose it was also an emotional preparation of sorts. He left there and drove to Meg's memorial. When he got there, he told Meg they'd finished their race. He took his medal off and gave it to her. She did most of the work, after all. It was her medal to wear.
I thought Scott and I were done talking at that point. My emotions were about empty, so I knew his had to be. Things were kind of quiet, then he told me he needed me to write something. He'd never asked me to write something specific before, but I assured him I'd write whatever he wanted.
He told me:
"During every interview I had this weekend, I said one thing over and over about Meg, but not one paper or television station reported it," Scott said. "I need you to write it. Meg was a good runner. She was a good mom, daughter, and wife. Meg did so many things good. But Meg did one thing great. Meg was a great Christian. That's the one thing I want people to know about Meg."
Scott went on to tell me how much he appreciates that people dedicate miles to Meg. How she inspires them to overcome challenges. He doesn't want that to change.
"But if I could tell people to do one thing for Meg," Scott said, "I'd tell them to go to church this Sunday. And if they didn't like that church, I'd ask them to try another one, or keep giving their church a chance. All the things people have said they loved about Meg came from Meg's love for her church and God."
I know some folks might think these are the words of a grieving man swimming in the muddy waters of faith and religion, desperately looking for comfort. I assure you they are not. This is a man who is hearing louder than ever his wife imploring him to be the spiritual leader of his family. A man being asked over and over to explain the goodness that is Meg Menzies and the universally loving and caring response to her death. And Scott is simply answering it the way Meg would answer it: saying very little while pointing toward the church.
I've said this before, I never met Meg. I do feel like I know her well now, though, at least through Scott's eyes. I'm sure I would have liked her. If someone were to ever ask me what I liked about Meg, I'd have to say this: as great as she was running in her own shoes, she was even better running in other people's shoes.
I heard this song recently and it made me think of Meg. I think it's the way she would ask us to look at the world. And if we did, could anyone keep us down?