I moved to Boston in 1996 to go to college, and much to my mother’s distress, I never left. I’ve moved progressively further out of the city, from Allston, to Brighton for a number of years, then the North Shore, and finally the Merrimack Valley, where I live now, but it’s just easier to tell people not familiar with the area that I live near Boston.
I used to attend the Marathon, not by choice. I worked or lived close to the route at various points in my life. It used to be a huge annoyance: the Marathon closed down all the public transportation in the area, and the blockades prevented me from even walking the several miles home, because I lived on one side and worked on the other. I would just join the crowds and hang out, wishing it would be over so I could get my tired self home. I haven’t had to do that in years; once I moved north of the city, I actively avoided going anywhere near downtown on Marathon Day. This year, in fact, I drove to Philadelphia to help my mother, who recently had surgery, during my week off.
And so I was here, not there, when yesterday’s tragedy struck. I watched, horrified, as the images came through on the news and the internet. I thought of my students, my colleagues, who would be attending the event or knew people attending or running. I thought of all the runners who train all year for this event, who come from all over to participate in such an accomplishment of human endurance, whose memories and achievement are tainted with terror. I thought of all the kids in the crowd, the families and friends of runners, the college students celebrating the day off. I thought of all the times I stood in that spot and watched the preparations for the race. I thought of how glad I was that I was with my mother, or she would be frantic with worry.
I ache not to know that my students and colleagues and their families are okay. I read a story this morning about a woman from a town next to where I work whose two sons lost legs; her last name is the same as a girl in my homeroom. The school email is down for scheduled maintenance, but with everyone scattered on vacation this week, I’m not sure we’d have any information anyway.
But lives continue, and Boston is tough as nails. The outpouring of compassion and aid makes me proud. They don’t need any blood donations immediately (I’d like to think my offering extra credit to kids to donated at last week’s blood drive at the school helped that), but marathon runners ran straight to hospitals to try and donate (even though they couldn’t after running 26 miles). Residents in the surrounding towns have opened their homes and offered spare rooms, couches, floors, kitchens, and hugs. Google has put together an app at lightning speed to help people find their families. Runners crossed the finish line and turned around to offer aid. The first responders – medical personnel, police, fire fighters – standing by to assist exhausted runners swarmed into action and surely saved many lives with their swift and fearless action. Bystanders leaped into possible danger to help the injured and terrified. Boston, a hub for education and medicine, mobilized in minutes to triage the disaster.
This gives me hope. This is my town: brave, ornery, strong, and proud. Boston has problems, but we’re Boston. The American Revolution started in this town. Great women and men who make history were and are shaped by living in this town. Fifty-three institutions of higher learning, including the most recognized names in post-secondary education, exist in the metropolitan area. Our hospitals are among the highest ranked in the nation for quality of care. We’re obnoxious sports fans and our city government has issues, but we have the spirit and tenacity of our terriers. These are our accomplishments; these are for what we are known and remembered.
Boston goes on; when we hold the Marathon next year, we’ll run for all of those hurt and frightened yesterday, and it will be amazing. We won’t be afraid to shop at the Pru or Newbury Street, and we’ll be back to cursing traffic in Copley Square as soon as they let us drive through it again. The people whose lives are irrevocably altered by this violence will not give up. And the tragedy will compel us to care a bit more, at least for a little while.
Whoever did this, you lose.