BOSTON HAS just spent its longest time in the national spotlight since the 1970s, when networks had cameras outside South Boston High School and led the nightly news with footage of rock-throwing protesters. Boston evolved over the ensuing decades, but, stubbornly, those scenes of the ’70s became the default image of the city, the baseline against which people measured their experiences. “Boston has changed so much,” both locals and visitors would exclaim, and it was true. But their very words revealed the need to account for that other, grimmer Boston, still frozen in the national imagination.
Not any longer. In the days following April 15, the new Boston showed in indelible ways. The spirit of the Marathon — the awesome diversity of the runners, the generosity of the spectators, the love for an event at once global and intensely local — became the spirit of Boston. And it revealed itself repeatedly over the course of the week, with demonstrations of heroism, courage, and unity. Far from giving way to stereotypes and conspiracy theories, as sometimes happened after 9/11, the public response to the attack that Monday was stoical and, even accounting for the shocking drama of the following Thursday and Friday, orderly.
People around the world witnessed an explosion on Boylston Street that rippled the flags of scores of nations — flags that welcomed runners from thousands of miles away. People saw victims from places as near as Dorchester and as far as China. They understood that it didn’t matter who was from where, only that they came together in Boston, victims and rescuers, on a fateful day.
The Boston Strong celebrations, like those in many cities two years ago upon the killing of Osama bin Laden, was a necessary release — a joyful expression of survival and relief. But Boston’s triumph wasn’t in the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; it was in the character Bostonians expressed to each other, and to the world. The spontaneous embrace of Boston by those around the country — the proud assertions that the entire nation was born here — reaffirms Boston’s central role in the American story. The response to the explosions opened the doors of our city. Recovery will continue for some time, as Bostonians seek to put the horrors behind them. But those doors will never be closed again.