We felt such a long way from Boston this week. We wondered about a friend who we knew would be running the Marathon. She was close to the explosions but is fine. We wondered most about our son Sam, who lives in nearby Cambridge. He quickly emailed to let us know he was OK but not until we called him did he say that he’d planned to help a friend shoot a video at the finish line all day, but he overslept and missed it. The friend was slightly injured. Then Sam mentioned that as we spoke he was confined in his apartment while the bomb disposal squad set off a controlled explosion in the bombers’ apartment, just a few feet down his street. He’d lived in their neighborhood. Probably saw them on the street. On television we watched a SWAT unit waiting to enter the bombers’ apartment as they stood in front of the sandwich shop across from Sam’s apartment. And we wondered about friends who live in Watertown neighborhoods while we watched Boston television – online live streams – showing soldiers patrolling streets where these friends lived.
Most of all we watched our city and wondered how it would react to these unprecedented events, scenes from an action movie we’d have rejected as too unrealistic to believe. Would Boston, with a black history of racism from which it has spent decades recovering, head down that dark path once the bombers were identified as Muslim? Boston, on the other hand, has what can only be viewed as a superiority complex. Massachusetts’ first governor called Boston the City on a Hill, the city of perfection from the Sermon on the Mount. Oliver Wendell Holmes called Boston the Hub of the Solar System, which was too modest so we expanded the title to Hub of the Universe. It is still called the Hub. We’ve referred to Boston, home of America’s greatest universities and finest hospitals as the Athens of America. And, of course, Boston is Beantown for the basic baked beans still available at most restaurants but at their zenith at Durgin Park (Google “rude waitress” and you’ll find Durgin Park).
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts used to sell a tee shirt with the Benjamin Franklin quote “Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Despite Franklin’s warning, that was the devil’s deal America made after September 11. America today tolerates practices – torture, drone killings, pervasive video and electronic monitoring – that never existed before the World Trade Center attack. For all the years since that attack, the greater fear has been how much more freedom would be traded for hopes of greater security after the second shoe dropped, after the next terror event in the United States.
Boston this week was that event. At this stage – a few days after the capture of the surviving bomber – it appears Boston is on a healthy path. People are supporting one another, businesses are reopening. Folks are back at work. There does not seem to be the same angry, fearful reaction as after September 11. Perhaps this is because the perpetrators were so quickly identified and dealt with, unlike the decades-long hunt for Osama bin Ladin and the two wars September 11 spawned. Perhaps we’ve grown more resilient.
Our hope is that Boston, our City on the Hill, our Beantown, will lead the country down this brighter path, the path heading for healing, rather than vengeance, for coming together rather than excluding others, the path that follows America’s historic strengths of liberty and rule of law and welcoming the multitudes from across the globe into our bouillabaisse of a culture. Our hope, our expectation is that Boston will lead the nation down this path.
One wonderful indication that Boston is recovering was this Boston Globe headline: “Bruins take the ice, Red Sox return to Fenway, Hub moves forward”
We’ve felt a long way from Boston this week.