When the president came on, heads turned.
Most, if not all, of the crowd at Joe’s American Bar & Grill had gathered to watch the broadcast of the interfaith service held today at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross. And until that moment some nodded, some clasped hands, some hid red eyes behind sunglasses, but forks still clattered, ice rattled, and the sound on the TV over the bar competed with conversations and the construction noise coming from the wall of open windows facing Newbury Street.
And then it was the president’s turn.
Everyone, everything, seemed to stop.
“On Monday morning, the sun rose over Boston ...” President Obama began, and Beth Sweet, a recently retired paralegal from Dorchester, leaned over the bar, tight-lipped, fingers folded as in prayer. Next to her, a young woman crossed her arms, unblinking, ignoring her mimosa.
When Obama spoke of young Martin Richard – “our hearts are broken for 8-year-old Martin, with his big smile and bright eyes” – the bartender did not try to hide her tears. Across from her, a crowd had gathered on the sidewalk, first five, then 20, and now 40 in all, people in suits and jeans and workout clothes, two city blocks and an array of barricades from where Monday’s bombings occurred.
“That’s right!” someone cried, when the president said Boston defined American values, that “whoever committed this heinous act . . . picked the wrong city.” When he said the world next year will “return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder,” people applauded. When he ended in prayer, they were silent, and then applauded again.
At the end of the bar, Sweet was alone, except she wasn’t.
“It was like I was with my family,” she said. “It was solemn. Painful. But positive. ‘This is our Boston. Don’t mess with us’ – they’re right.”
Behind tortoiseshell glasses, Sweet, 65, thought about the last time she saw a crowd gather in such somber unity in a public place: 1989, when she was living in Santa Cruz and Northern California was shaken by the massive Loma Prieta earthquake.
Even then, something in life was pulling Sweet, a Miami Beach native, away from warmer climes and toward Boston, her mother’s hometown. Back then it was “the architecture and the brick and the history,” she recalled, as conversations resumed, waiters brought plates, patrons reached for the check. “Like a little piece of Europe.”
But that’s not why she stayed.
“It was the people,’’ Sweet said.