Catharsis in Motion

Hillel Bromberg

April 22, 2013


I started riding the Pan-Mass Challenge ten years ago after cancer took my father. I found that I couldn’t sit still and let it devastate other families, so I saddled up for the weekend ride that raises a buttload of money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Riding, and putting effort into helping salve others, felt good. Training for hours on the bike gave me time to remember, reflect, and think about dad’s life, and mine, and my kids’. Being in motion was the right thing to do then, and remains so. Every year since, when I gather with 5,200 other riders who pedal in memory and in honor, I am reminded about the power of being active. The motion carries the day.


I was on my bike this morning, but it wasn’t a training ride. An ad hoc group of about 40 Boston area cyclists met in Hopkinton at the marathon starting line. We all kicked in a bunch of money for the One Fund Boston (set up to help those most affected by the bombings), then, joyfully, solemnly, respectfully, we rode the marathon route together. It was a spontaneous effort – one group of amateur athletes reaching out to another. It felt right to be in motion, to work through the events of this past week, to remember and reflect and, perhaps through our activity, lend some strength to those who need healing.


I don’t usually pay attention to my cyclometer when I’m riding, I just check my stats at the end of the route. But as we were riding down Commonwealth Ave, I happened to glance down and, I swear this is true, the odometer read exactly 26.2 miles. My stomach lurched and my throat clenched up. I made the distance that so many others on Monday could not. They’ll never know it, but I was riding for them.


We finished the ride at the Public Garden and were met by a group of college-age kids who were wandering around wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with, “Do you need a hug?” They were joyfully distributing embraces to all comers and I had to respect their own form of catharsis. Then we walked over to the memorial site that has blossomed a couple of blocks away at the end of Boylston Street. There were a few hundred people milling around and some kind of interfaith service going on. From there, I could see the building that houses my office. We were a block away from the finish line on Monday. We heard the booms, we saw the plume of smoke. I don’t know when we’ll be able to get back into our building. All I could do was hold the rope out of the way so some little kid could add her drawings to the growing pile of heartfelt testimonials.


I don’t have any answers to this madness. We all need to mourn and heal and try to understand in our own way. For me, being in motion matters. There is something about the simple joy of riding a bicycle, along with the very practical help of donating to devastated families, that makes me feel like I’m on the right track. I hope I always remember to take action. I hope you find your own peace.