Maybe Boston is a second-rate city. Or maybe Boston, as I heard once, is just a city that thinks it’s a small town. A town of beans, according to our deeply embarrassing nickname. The subway service here stops at midnight, as if to say “so should you.” Our unnavigable streets clump and sprawl without a unifying logic, like a mass of tangled hair. Our sidewalks are bumpy slivers, wide enough to accommodate about one-and-a-half adults across, uncomfortably.
We may not live in New York or Los Angeles. But we do not want to live in New York or Los Angeles. On Monday, President Obama called us “tough.” Maybe we are, or maybe what’s tough is just the rocky soil in which we have elected to plant ourselves. We are a people who have accepted something smaller and less grand, in the belief that it is sturdier.
In Boston, we work with what we have. And that includes our bodies, which may be, like our city, second-rate. Everybody runs here. Even as I listened to the breaking news that Suspect No. 2 was in custody, I looked out my window to see a jogging woman step into the street so she could pass a walker on the sidewalk. Too narrow, as I mentioned, for two.
If you are a local, running the Marathon is something you think not only that you can do, but that you will do, at some unfixed point in the future. For me — and for others, I am sure — it is a goal I have stated only to myself, whispered to my heart and muscles. We welcome Patriots Day each year as an opportunity to indulge in a favorite pastime: imagining our future selves, the men and women we could someday become.
As we watch the Marathon from the sidelines, we see bodies like ours barreling by. Our neighbors, cousins, and colleagues working with what they have — bodies freckled, faded, and sore. We never considered that what we have, while precious to us, would be of interest to anybody else. That someone would try to rob us of our insular achievements, our personal bests. Imagine our surprise.
Friday night after the lockdown, I walked to Franklin Street in Watertown to see the neighborhood where Suspect No. 2 was finally discovered. The air was filled with the buzzing of helicopters and news van engines, punctuated by cheers from the gathering crowds. As souvenirs, people started to gather up discarded strips of yellow caution tape, which I could not help but think of as a stand-in for a broken finish line. So let the world know that we in Boston continue to work with what we have. Which is to say, what we have left.
Kayla Hammond Larkin, who grew up in Burlington and lived in Watertown before moving to Cambridge three months ago, works at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham.