BY JIM RAFTUS
Last week, on Patriots’ Day, I was standing amidst a group of family and friends at mile 19.5, in Newton, waiting to cheer on my niece, Kathy Raftus Wilder, who was running her first Boston Marathon. In separate conversations with two women, one 30 and another in her early 40s, I recalled how, in 1967, a race official named Jock Semple literally pulled Katherine Switzer off the course because women were not allowed to race. Both young women I was talking to, intelligent and successful, were astounded to hear the story.
This year, there were 16,107 women runners out of 35,755 participants. I consider this a huge evolution within my lifetime, a sort of slow miracle. It made me think of other slow miracles over my 67 years.
Most people picture miracles as events that transpire relatively quickly: Jesus changing the water into wine at a Canaan wedding or Moses parting the Red Sea. Or, on a more secular level: Mike Eruzione scoring the winning goal to beat the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics for the “Miracle on Ice” or Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landing Flight 1549 on a river, saving 155 lives in the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
I believe that slow miracles do exist. Not taking the time to notice and savor them robs a person of a great sense of optimism and faith.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to move to the “colored” section of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala. On Nov. 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected president.
No matter what a person’s political ideology, there can be no denying this miraculous shift in understanding and acceptance. This was a long, slow miracle that needed the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act and many other acts of courage to evolve. Of course, it would be naïve to say racism is a thing of the past, but within my lifetime we have moved from government-sanctioned segregation to having a black man in the Oval Office. A slow miracle.
In the 1970s, only 23.7 percent of cancer patients survived at least 10 years. By 2007, that had risen to 45.2 percent. In specific cases, such as prostate cancer, the increases for the same time frame rocketed from 20 percent to 70 percent. The work of places such as the Dana Farber Center, in Boston, and the efforts of organizations such as the Jimmy Fund and many other charities has prolonged the lives of millions who in the past had little hope. While this disease still inflicts turmoil and heartbreak on far too many lives and families, the progress toward stemming the cause continues. This is a still-evolving slow miracle to be savored.
As my niece, Kathy, approached her large, cheering clan at the 19.5 mile mark, her 5-year-old daughter, Erin, held up a handmade sign that read, “Go, Mom.”
Kathy beamed as she spotted us, gave high-fives all around, hugged Erin and continued on for seven more miles, to be greeted by another family contingent at the finish line. As 16,106 other women passed by us, another slow miracle came to mind.
Women in the United States could not vote until 1920. During my early primary and secondary school days in the 1950s, girl classmates were shepherded to continue their education, if at all, at Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School, the Rhode Island Normal School for Teachers or nursing school. This could, and did, lead them to honorable careers, but in hindsight there was an almost institutionalized limitation on higher aspirations. All the talk of future doctors, lawyers and scientists seemed directed toward the boys in the school.
Now, thanks to efforts such as the Equal Pay Act of 1960, the Equal Rights Amendment of 1972 and heroic attempts by women’s groups and their male supporters to make these resolutions realities, not just words, parity, while not yet achieved, is at least in viewing range.
There are currently 20 women in the Senate, the highest number in history, and three women serve as Supreme Court justices. There are finally some female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. Now, 58 percent of college undergraduates are women.
Our niece Kathy ran her first marathon as part of a project called “Dream Big!,” which raises funds to provide sports equipment and opportunities for young girls living in impoverished areas. Kathy raised nearly $14,000 through her efforts and contributions by others.
When I looked at her daughter holding that sign, all I could think was, “Go, Erin.”
There are miracles slowly blooming all around you. Spend your life embracing them.
Jim Raftus (email@example.com) is a retired marketing director who lives in Cumberland. firstname.lastname@example.org
BY JIM RAFTUS