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PEACE IS EVERY STEP: Running with the peace tribe in Boston

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Mark Basquill ruminates on peace and running.

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“I’ve only seen the peace sign on women’s racing singlets. I’m a Dude!” I e-mailed Claire Driscoll, a representative of ION, a Canadian-based manufacturer of athletic apparel and accessories. “Capital D.”

“We have a peace logo on some shirts, but we didn’t think there would be much of a market for the men’s running singlets,” Claire from Canada replied.

I read Gwenyfar’s Live Local column. I didn’t figure I’d have a problem finding the old peace sign on a men’s tank top somewhere close. Canada was as local as I could get. Maybe I missed something, or maybe there’s not much of a market for peace in America—at least among men.

Claire eventually special-ordered a royal blue running singlet with a peace sign. With the shirt on the way and my John Lennon “Imagine” shades on the dresser, I was properly uniformed for my first Boston Marathon.

My team colors initially didn’t matter. We may believe we’re evolved, mature, rugged individualists, but we’re still kind of tribal. We like our teams. Over the past 30 years, the loneliness of the long-distance runner has been replaced by legions of people running in a rainbow of colors to represent a tribe. Most local footraces aren’t primarily organized to provide fleet feet with bling; they’re organized to support a common cause. I’m proud to represent the Wilmington Road Runners at the annual Relay for Life and most events, but the 2013 Boston Marathon triggered a question: Is there a cause closer to my heart, another tribe’s colors I might carry in Boston?

Shortly after teaching meditation to a young warrior struggling to cope with the aftermath of carnage, I started searching for my peace shirt. Even as the warrior reluctantly admitted the thrill of combat can be as addictive as heroin, he lamented, “But anyone who thinks war is a good idea really hasn’t been to one.” I handed over my modern Achilles Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace is Every Step,” suggested he shift his workouts from combat to cardio and consider going for a run.

I’ve run all my life. I also became interested in meditation and the peace path early in the journey. A lot of ‘70s kids watched karate movies and the “Kung Fu” TV series. “Kung Fu” had the essentials of any good story: journey and conflict. A lot of kids watched and bought nunchucks or learned Kung Fu fighting. For me, the meditating Shaolin priest sparked a lifelong interest (if not always diligent practice) in the contemplative life and peace path.

I tend to focus on journeys, outward and inward, more than battles. Perhaps that leaves me vulnerable to attack. Perhaps our culture’s compulsion to see apocalyptic conflict everywhere has stopped us in our tracks. Sometimes even by winning the battles, we lose the journey.

Most people supported the “Peace Man,” as well as 28,000 other marathoners on the run to Boston. Most of us want to provide water, Gatorade and emotional support to each other on our brief journey. Trudging up “Heartbreak Hill,” I even saw a spectator who looked like Freddie Mercury or Steve Vernon (tough to tell them apart). He wore a tattered tie-dye peace T-shirt, tapped his heart twice, lowered his head, and raised two fingers in the air (our gang signs) and said, “It’s a hard road, brother.”

I’m partly reppin’ for peace because it concerns me that, unlike my wise peace-tribe mate, many people see “peace” as a boring, tranquil, post-carnage end-state rather than a dynamic, dangerous and difficult path.

Passing Fenway Park, a guy shouted, “Peace is patriotic.” That’s a dubious claim. When we take an honest look at history we see peace is not a product of blind patriotism and never the primary export of any empire. In fact, running in a peace shirt on Patriot’s Day is a little defiant and may signal serious dissidence. Eventually, I might make this empire’s watch list.

If it’s not dissident enough to rep for peace, I’m also reppin’ for poets. Reciting Whitman, Shakespeare and Tennyson got me through 16 miles. Henley’s “Invictus” powered me up the hills. I limped toward the finish, where the bombs exploded in 2013, I recited the only line I ever sort of remember from a poet laureate of the peace tribe: “Make me an instrument of peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love.”

As we march toward Memorial Day and onward, it may be all any of us need to remember.

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