DUBLIN — When talking with friends here in Ireland about life in the United States, I like to boast that my hometown of Boston is not like the rest of the country. We are smaller, friendlier, easier to get to know than most other US cities due to our tight location on the upper East Coast and our continuous history of welcoming newcomers.
Yes, we have a pretty definite view of the way things ought to be — and sometimes we can err on the side of the liberally wacky — but we rarely take our politics or our beliefs to an extreme, as some folks do in other parts of the country.
Boston remains a pragmatic Irish town, after all.
But I now find myself with some explaining to do.
In the minutes and hours after the Marathon bombings, I received text messages, Facebook posts, and phone calls from Irish friends and neighbors sympathizing with the trauma my hometown was suffering. And because nobody knows quite like the Irish do how small the world can seem at times, each of these messages contained a heartfelt wish that no one near to me was caught up in the madness.
I was grateful for the thoughtful words and assured everyone who got in touch that my friends and relations in the Boston area were all safe. But after that I really did not know what to say. In a remote corner of my mind I continued to believe that the events of Marathon Monday could not possibly be happening in my hometown. In front of the city’s great public library no less.
Then a friend’s daughter posted a pair of startling photos on Facebook. The first one Lauren took herself, from a vantage point three or four rows deep among a sidewalk crowd near the finish line. The shot features a line of waving flags and the upturned faces of eager spectators looking out for a friend or family member who is about to complete the grueling 26-mile race. The second photo is an overhead view of the same spot showing the awful carnage that resulted when the first bomb exploded minutes later, as Lauren was walking home to her apartment on Commonwealth Avenue.
There was now no disputing that Boston had been attacked. I had an eyewitness account from someone I have known since she was a young girl in Stoneham. Plus, one of the bombing victims — Krystle Campbell — grew up where I did, in Medford.
Still, I held out hope that the scope of the tragedy would be confined to a single coordinated act of horrific violence.
Within days — as the story came to involve the brutal murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier and a bomb-strewn car chase through Cambridge and Watertown, followed by a shelter-in-place lockdown of Greater Boston — my hopes were well and truly dashed.
Friends here began commiserating once again. Appreciative though I was, it became harder to explain that this was not the true Boston they were seeing on their TVs and computers. It became harder to explain what I now knew to be the case: Despite the Hub’s long history of accommodating immigrants from around the world, Boston has joined the list of soft targets for deluded individuals who are prepared to express their political and personal grievances through terrorism.
The Hub’s post-9/11 age of innocence is over. My old narrative — in which Boston is portrayed as an open city of high-flying professionals and low-wage workers, of displaced immigrants and deep-rooted locals, living together in relative peace — now has an unsettling new chapter.
With New York and London, Madrid and Bali, Boston will be a notable inclusion in any summary of contemporary terrorist activity.
And that is going to take some getting used to.