My wife and I lived for eight years in the Boston area, including four years in the heart of Cambridge and two years in Watertown. The very same route from Cambridge to Watertown where the Marathon bombers led police on a deadly chase – we drove it multiple times every day. The police and press were gathered today at a mall we once frequented. Virtually every place they mentioned, every picture taken, referred to places we knew well. It’s beyond bizarre to imagine walking down the street, or looking out our window, and seeing scenes like this one:
We have various connections to the three who lost their lives in the blasts on Monday. For my family’s sake, and for the slight possibility that something might have happened to them, I’m glad we were not there this week. For my own part, however, I found myself wishing that I had been there. I find myself wishing that I could have faced this together with my fellow Bostonians. Because they still feel like my fellows, and I still feel like a Bostonian. I’ve often told people I love Atlanta and I’m happy here, and that’s true, but Boston still feels like home.
It’s odd. I’m not the most likely Bostonian. I’m a Yankees fan, for one thing, which by itself is practically treason. I’m a Patriots fan, which helps, but that fact is canceled out by the fact that I’m a Lakers fan as well. The importance of these things cannot be overstated in the world of Boston. More important, I’m an evangelical Christian with right-leaning political instincts in a town where “conservative Christian” is a dastardly epithet.
And yet, for all that, I deeply loved the place, and there was a sense of fellow-feeling amongst Bostonians I have never found anywhere else. Bostonians know they live in one of the world’s unique cities, one of its most beautiful and enjoyable cities with remarkable features and treasures and institutions. It possesses a greater historical depth than nearly any other American city, and its cultural and intellectual richness is unequalled. In one direction, Bostonians are blue-collar “Murphy and Sons” plumbers and watchmakers. In another direction, they’re cutting edge innovators at MIT who go into the science and technology fields. In still another direction, they’re Harvard illuminati who cannot pass a single weekend without visiting another museum or art gallery or antiquarian bookstore. But in Boston I always felt a sense that we were in this together.
Patriots Day in Boston — attending a sunny baseball game at Fenway and cheering as the marathoners pass by — is a glorious thing. Watching the responses of the spectators, and the first responders, to the bombing on Monday, then watching the city band together to heal and move forward and catch those responsible, then watching the entire city remain inside to get the culprits caught, made me proud to be a Bostonian. And on a day like today, when the surviving bomber was apprehended, I will have to risk the cliche and say that we are all indeed Bostonians.
There will come a time to sift through every detail, to consider the policy implications, to examine responsibilities and accountability. Today is not that day, but when that day comes I hope we will ask whether we are teaching our children — and the children who come to our shores — of the true American virtues. We need to teach our children not only of America’s faults and idolatries but also of its glories, its accomplishments, and its values. There is much in America to celebrate, yet I feel as though we’ve been afraid to do so. There is more to be proud of in American history than there is to be ashamed of, and yet I’m not sure that fact is always passed on well to the rising generations.
There was a moment when the younger (and still living) of the two Marathon bombers had just been taken into custody, and the cameras that were on the scene showed an outpouring of jubilation. Boston had been shut inside, trying to give the police and the feds all the room they needed to operate. But now they were out, and just as they’re coming out again they see the cops getting their man. He is alive, and this is important to us, because we want to ask him why, and we want to know more about how he was radicalized. But my wife and I were touched by the scenes of police cruisers driving down the street to delirious applause from citizens who had gathered on the sidewalks.
So, well done, Boston. You’ve acquitted yourself well, and shown American and the world once again what a remarkable city you are. You have reminded us of true American grit. So your scattered sons have been praying for you, and now cheer for you, for the strength and resilience and determination you’ve shown.
My four-year-old daughter has had some vague awareness of what’s been happening in our old home town. Tonight my wife was tucking her into bed, and she told her, “They caught the other bad guy.” “Who were they? Who caught the bad guys?” she asked.
“Real-life superheroes,” my wife said. And that’s about the measure of it.
My daughter giggled, happy to know that there are still real-life superheroes out there to catch the real-life bad guys. As the week’s events have made clear, some of those superheroes live in Boston.