Although I grew up not far from Boston, I’ve not-so-secretly balked at what can feel like Boston’s insularity, blue law-stagnation, self-satisfaction, and borderline hostility. Even its roadmap is aggressive: I once faced a four-way stop in Southie in which all three streets read “Do Not Enter.” And when I wandered around Harvard Square one recent, lazy afternoon, I could locate every stop on the routine outing I’d take with my childhood friends nearly 20 years ago — down to the scruffy jewelry booth where one of my daring friends had surreptitiously gotten her ears pierced. Boston hasn’t changed since 1628, I thought, un-generously. I’ve often said that Manhattan, where I spent four years in my late 20s; D.C., where I attended college; and Providence, where I’ve lived for the past three years; have my heart. Those cities, it seemed, were more exciting, more of-the-times.
But today, I have come to realize what others have for so long: Boston’s grit and its other unique and remarkable characteristics — its clannishness, prudence, and intelligence—are what have enabled it to unflappably stand for good, now, in the wake of this tragedy—and for more than 400 years. These qualities have enabled the city to so often be the county’s first and only to rise for truth, justice, and excellence — with little regard for what others think, what barriers exist, or what pain awaits. These strengths have enabled the city to stand as victor in the country’s first revolution, as the center of the abolitionist movement, as one of the largest havens for famine-escaping Irish-Catholic immigrants (including many of my ancestors), and as the site of the first legal gay marriage and universal health care system. They have enabled it to stand, today, as the nation’s leader on nearly all measures of excellence in education and in medicine.
And since last week, we have been reminded of Boston’s extraordinary inability to stand down. On Monday, we saw Boston’s strength in the hardboiled police and firemen who ran straight into smoky uncertainty; in the plucky citizens who closed arteries with their fingers and opened their doors to strangers; in the stoic Harvard doctors who hour after hour removed or reformed mangled limbs from carnage; in the unbreakable Boston runners, who pushed on miles past the finish to donate blood; in the injured, like brothers Joseph and Paul Norden, who lost their legs when shielding their friend’s wife from the second blast. (“Ma, I’m hurt real bad,” Paul reportedly said from his stretcher — so heartbreakingly, perfectly Boston.) And last Thursday and Friday, we saw it more than ever. Again and again, I saw the same sentiment on social media: “We’re not scared. We’re wicked pissed.”
Yeah, we were. I was so angry I drove halfway up to Boston from Providence Friday night before reigning myself in. What on earth was I going to do about it? On the way back, I got a call from my mom. The robot they were about to send into the scene was the one my dad had played a major role in designing and engineering, she told me — a robot that had been used largely in the Middle East. He had spotted it on the news. My anger turned to hope: terrorism didn’t stand a chance against Bostonian ingenuity.
Surely, there have been missteps in Boston’s distant and recent past — the downside of the city’s sometimes insouciant pride. But today, right at this very moment, there is no greater city. The alleged bombers have been caught. Bostonians are donning their Red Sox caps, heading out for a run on those tangled, beautiful streets — the stitched red “B” quietly, resolutely standing for “Be Strong.” It always has. They always will.
Yes, Boston, you’re one tough town. Boston, I love you.