The first time I went to Boston, I was seven-years-old and in second grade at Dora Moore Elementary School in Denver, Colorado. My parents took me and my sister there in the fall of that year (1977) to see the leaves change and to visit the sites. I remember driving around New England (a lot of Eric Clapton on the radio then), visiting the North Bridge in Concord, walking the Freedom Trail (a little long for my tastes), seeing Walden Pond. The sense of history that permeated the city and saturated New England was overwhelming to me. The dates on the tombstones I saw in Cambridge struck me as positively ancient. There were people alive in the 1600s! And they lived in Boston! I returned home convinced that I had visited the most important city in the world.
Like so, so many American kids, I ended up returning to Boston years later to study: in my case, to do a Masters and a PhD at Harvard. So I lived in Cambridge for six years. I think for many, many people who have the opportunity—for lack of a better phrase—to “come of age” in Boston, there are few places that can be more adored than that city. Parts of the town felt appropriately intimidating when I lived there, but much of the place came to feel familiar and intimate, and the rewards for exploring the city always felt immediate to me. So when I learned of what had transpired on Monday, Patriot’s Day, that wonderful holiday celebrated only in New England, I felt—as I’m sure so many others did who are not from Boston but who care about the place and feel that a part of them is connected to the place and emerged from that place—not just horrified and outraged but unsettled and anxious and angry. It is not just that such acts of indiscriminate violence take the lives of the innocent, of the young, of those who—like me, once many moons ago—were students or those who—like my own son—go places and do things to cheer on their parents. It is also that, in taking away such lives, in making the world as ugly as possible, in inflicting pain and suffering and sadness, these people try to destroy what is beautiful and communal: what resonates over time and what is so often in the background of those memories we linger over, unstated and unrecognized. “Of course it was a great day! It was Patriot’s Day.”
I remember, on Patriot’s Day, wandering over to Fenway Park with friends in the hopes of being able to get a ticket to the game. That seemed, on that specific day on the Red Sox calendar, never to work out. So instead we would watch the game in a bar somewhere nearby. Then we would drift over to the finish line and watch the runners cross. And there were always such great stories: the father who would push his son each year in his wheelchair, the runners who ran to bring attention to one cause or another. And there were the professionals, finishing the race in those amazing times: running with their feet barely touching the ground. Marathons (I have run one, once, in Chicago, and my feet touched the ground a lot) celebrate a city like few other events can because they wind in and through a city and its suburbs. They tie the place together.
I was reminded again this week of how much I owe the city and the people of Boston, of how much I learned there, and how much I care about that city. If you want to make a donation to help the victims and their families, go here.