The communications center I work at looks out over a middle school and the university beyond, and just across the street from the window I like to sit by is a gigantic flag pole. When America observes that most respectful gesture of mourning, lowering the flag to half-mast, this is the view I see.
Its been a sadly familiar sight in recent times, but this cuts even deeper than other recent events, because I have special feelings for the city of Boston. It is in fact my favorite city in the whole world, at least among those I have actually travelled to.
When I was a young college student in that dreadful December of 1980 I saw a picture of John Lennon fans at a candlelight vigil for thr Beatle on the Boston Common. Something about that particular photo really stuck with me, and several years later when I created an angst ridden where has our generation gone play about Lennon's death I called it A Night on the Boston Common. (Unfortunately Lawrence Kasaden had the same sort of idea at the same time, and called it the Big Chill. But I digress.)
At the time I had never been to Boston and wouldn't get their for nearly 10 years. But I found the city fascinating. A couple years later, I was researching a play on the great actor, Edwin Booth, who spent large parts of his life in Boston and was buried there, and again I was drawn. Then there were those Concord writers Alcott and Emerson and Thoreau. And then there were the Red Sox. I was born to be a Red Sox fan, because I get futility, and curses, and Babe Ruth, and coming so close only to fall just short--the Red Sox are like the story of my life,
When I finally got there, in the early 90's I was smitten. To one who loves history as I do, Boston is living breathing history. You find yourself standing at the site of the Boston Massacre or the Old North Church or on the deck of the US Constitution and you feel the presence of those who went before. I made it to the Boston Common as well--had social media existed back then I surely would have posted a "Made it at last" photo to my
Facebook feed. The public transit is excellent (a major consideration for someone who doesn't drive.) I had several good friends in the area, and then in the mid 90's my brother lived in the area for a few years, and I made a number of trips up there with my young son. He, in fact, saw his first few big league ball games in Fenway Park
. We walked the Freedom Trail from Bunker Hill to the Boston Public Garden, riding on the swan boats, marching with the statues of Mrs Mallards Ducklings, paying our respects to the 54th Mass memorial.
The city is also very famously, the home of many people who drew from America,s immigrant tradition. Some of my Irish ancestors passed through their back in the 1880's.
Boston became my favorite big city.
Although we haven't been back recently, I always hoped to get another chance. And although I had never seen a marathon run, I hoped to some day. I was taken to Cambridge one time during the running of the Charles, and the good natured atmosphere, like the world was being invited to a private party, was delightful.
Monday I was sitting at work when my twitter account started blowing my phone up. The initial reports sounded like possible accidents: "Explosions heard near the finish line of the marathon" they said. But as usual in this these sorts of things, the news just kept getting worse.
This hurts so much on so many levels. The sorrow and hurt to so many families, the hurt done to a favorite city, the interplay of sports, it all hurts so much. The scene of the tragedy is but a few blocks from the Commons, the site that had first drawn me to Boston so many years ago.
We are always appalled when these events occur. We can picture ourselves in the shoes of the people who were there. When it is in a location that we have seen, we identify even more.
We can see ourselves in that place and time.
Marathons in many ways are the most democratic of sporting events. Winning, except for the most elite runners takes a back seat simply finishing, to doing ones best. You don't have to pay admission to attend a marathon either, just find a vacant spot on the street to stand and cheer.
Last night there was another memorial on the Boston Common, another grieving. People going through their daily lives had them interrupted violently. Humanity at its worst. But other people, despite their trauma, found the courage to come out into the open and mourn together. Humanity at its best. Just as the firemen and doctors and nurses and others who ran towards the carnage on Monday are the best of humanity.
Even as we recoil from the darkness, we are drawn back to the light by our essential goodness to each other.