This week was the second time I was in a city that was attacked.
First New York, now Boston.
While the two aren’t the same, I have spent a lot of today sitting in Boston and thinking about New York.
New York was the city I grew up in, first as a child then later as a young adult. Boston has been the city of my more, shall we say… mature years. One city I’ve always thought of as home, the other has been mostly a place where I live.
Now I’m not about to say that after yesterday’s horrific events at the Boston Marathon, I am now a tried and true Bostonian who will bleed for the Red Sox and paak my caah. Boston is still the city in which I live, but I did realize yesterday that it means a little more to me than that. I understand Boston better in the wake of the attack and see it perhaps a bit more clearly.
I wasn’t along the marathon route, though I work nearby. Like so many others who live here, I had the day off and because I hate crowds and wouldn’t have gone to watch the runners unless I knew someone – and even then it would have to be someone I really really liked, so basically, there is no way I would have been near where the explosions went off – I wasn’t nearby.
And though, thankfully, no one I know was harmed…I still feel the aftershocks.
I walk by the finish line constantly. All the time. At least once a week. I had even been right there the day before. One of my favorite Saturday activities is seeing a matinee at the Common and walking down Boylston to the Hynes T stop and then hopping on a train home. That stretch is part of my routine, part of what makes up my life here in Boston.
Looking at photos from the blasts, the Lenscrafters where I bought the glasses I am currently wearing…destroyed. The corner where I wait to cross over and enter the Prudential Center is now a site of carnage. The street that I had ambled down so many times, my mind always focused elsewhere, now a crime scene.
And all day I recalled my thoughts in the aftermath of 9/11. The photos of street corners I’d waited at covered in ash and rubble. The Lower Manhattan area, where just days prior to the attack my friends and I had ridden our bikes like 10-year olds, enjoying the beautiful weather, now irreversibly changed. The Towers in whose shadows I had grown up, their spires providing a southern mirror to the Empire State building as I stood outside our apartment building…obliterated by an act of extreme and unfathomable violence.
While Boston does not have the physical gaping hole and open wound of Ground Zero, the emotional impact is there. The marathon has been run for 117 consecutive years, a point of immense pride in a city that is full of things it is prideful about. Patriot’s Day symbolizes everything that makes Boston what it is – the Red Sox play, people drink, and the city once again becomes an international hub, the focal point of the world for just a moment, just as it was during those early days of the American Revolution. To cause such tragedy and loss on Patriot’s Day strikes in the very essence of this city.
I remember going to the New England Aquarium for the first time with a friend who was giddy at the thought of taking me there. She was so excited to show me the big tank, and the penguins, and the turtle. When we got in and hiked up the slow winding ramp, I kept waiting for more. At the top of the Big Tank she just stood there, expecting me to be awed. I wasn’t. I didn’t understand that this was it. Just this…tank. Sure it had a lot fish in it, but it was just one tank. Behind us, a tourist loudly proclaimed “This is so dinky”. I agreed and explained yes, this was dinky. Sure if it’s what you grew up with and was your point of reference, I’m sure it was amazing. But otherwise, nothing to blow your socks off.
It is that same fierce adherence to everything hometown that makes Boston what it is. Everyone is ecstatic for opening day at Fenway and when the Sox lose, you actually feel the city itself mourn. The aquarium might not be the best in the world, but dammit it belongs to Boston and that alone makes it wicked awesome. I see how everyone is coping and the same attitude that I found provincial, I now believe to be a source of strength and maybe even endearing.
I want to believe that the majority of people in the world aren’t the sort who would set out to kill and destroy. We talk about the heroes from 9/11, those amazing first responders who ruined their own health to save others and later bring closure to many many families. We point out all the runners who instead of relaxing after completing the marathon, ran to the local hospitals to give blood and provide whatever aid they could. We cling to these because we need to believe there is more in the world than just this pure and boundless evil. I want to believe this. I do.
But sitting now in the second city suffering from a terrible attack, it’s difficult to hold onto this positivity.
However, I look at photos of little girls handing donuts to the soliders blocking Boylston and Mass Ave, and I think about every act of kindness from random strangers in September 2011, and maybe I can believe that humanity can be more than violence and more than cruelty.
Boston, like New York, will recover. Slowly and painfully and never really being the same. But time heals even the worst pain. The city’s bravado will return and we’ll all complain about taking the T after a Bruins game or a Sox game.
And one day, I’ll walk down Boylston again on a Saturday afternoon and my mind will be able to wander.