I've been madly in love with Boston my entire life. In some ways, Patriot’s Day is a celebration of our first date. Even though I'm in the opposite corner of the country, that love has never felt stronger than it has this week.
Patriot’s Day is special in Massachusetts. When I was a child, I’d wear a tri-cornered hat, pull my socks up over my pant legs to mimic a minuteman, grab a toy rifle and hold my own reenactment in the backyard. My Dad brought me to Lexington Green, and Concord Bridge several times and it was always a special treat to go into town and visit the observation deck of the Pru, or the John Hancock, where they used to have an educational presentation on Boston’s rich history. I remember tiny, white light bulbs on a huge map illuminated the route Paul Revere took on the evening of April 18, 1775. After the show, I would stare out the huge windows of the observation deck and take in the panoramic view of all the wondrous sites mentioned.
Coming from Boston, I have always felt pride in terms like ‘patriot’, ‘minutemen’ and ‘the tea party’, and it has always annoyed me when other groups around the nation co-opt those words to better market their political purpose, often sullying the name and cheapening the history in the process.
Patriot’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. You didn’t get presents, but you got out of school or work and into the spring air. One year we joined the masses at Hopkinton, to witness the start of the big race. For most of my youth, if we didn’t watch on television, we’d fight traffic and find a place along Route 9, somewhere in the middle of the course. We’d stand on the roof of my dad’s brown Dodge Dart and wait along with everyone else, to cheer for the runners. First came those in wheelchairs whom you admired for their determination. Then came the elite runners, whom you admired for their athleticism. Then, mixed among neighbors and friends, were local heroes and personalities. Workers from big companies ran together, engaged in a bonding exercise. Small teams and individuals ran for a cause, raising funds for cancer, or a fallen family member. The roar of the crowd for this wave of runners was deafening. The cheers helped motivate people ever forward. Volunteers held out Dixie cups of water and orange slices amidst shouts of encouragement and the ever-present unrelenting applause. You couldn’t help but feel great after attending the Boston Marathon. By the time I was in college and beyond, I watched the final leg along Boylston Street, often a few feet from the finish line.
I’d often reminisce while walking the streets of Boston. When I was very young, and still in the suburbs, my mother and grandmother used to drag me on to a train to “go to the city” and shop at places like Jordan Marsh and Filene’s and I’m sure we had lunch at Woolworths. I’d be pulled along the cobblestone sidewalks of the Freedom Trail without complaint. We’d visit the Granary Burial ground, the final resting place of many early patriots, including my favorite, Paul Revere.
On other occasions, my older brothers and sister could always be counted on to score a few seats in Fenway at least a couple of times each season, when Lynn, Rice and Evans where in the outfield.
Although I visited many campuses in New England, when it came time for college, there was never any real doubt I would go someplace in Boston. I chose Emerson, where I lost my accent and found my voice. It’s where I grew up. Boston is where I met my best friends, had my first real kiss, learned how to lead, and how to write. Boston is where I fell in love. I proposed to my wife on the bridge in the Public Garden. We wed in the Copley Plaza Hotel, a block away from where the marathon finished. We lived in a small apartment above an art gallery on Newbury Street, a block away from the finish line in the other direction.
At that time in my life, I fully realized feeling of Boston being the ‘Hub of the Universe.’ It was the hub of my universe, particularly Back Bay.
I moved to California twenty years ago, but a big part of me never really left Boston. My wife and my young family would make it a point to visit my parents in the suburbs, and eventually down the Cape, whenever possible, but the trip wasn’t complete until we spent some time in the city.
Whenever a business trip brought me back East, I would nearly always finagle a side trip to Boston, even if just for a few hours.
I find it hard to describe the spirit of Boston to those who have never been. The city has an intimacy of scale, but an enormous vitality. Yes, there is arrogance, usually justified. Yes, there is belligerence, usually not justified. And, particularly refreshing after spending time on the West coast, there is brutal honesty and raucous humor. If you want warm memories in your life, spend a cold day in Boston. Last year my father and I went in for the day. The cosmopolitan energy was immediate. It refueled me. Once touched, you feel like you’ll never run on empty again.
I’ve learned that others who’ve spent formative years in Boston, and we’re everywhere, have all had similar experiences. This realization is not met with scarcity or jealousy over someone riding the coattails of your memory. Instead, there is an immediate palpable bond and kinship. Once you’re a Bostonian, you’re always a Bostonian.
Every time I see images of Boston, my heart flutters and I get giddy, like seeing an old crush. To see the horrific images coming out of Boston this week were heartbreaking, not only because of the carnage and the attack on the very spirit of the day, but also, and I know I’m not alone in this, because it felt extremely personal. The sidewalks soaked in the blood of innocent people are sidewalks I’ve travelled thousands of times. The pictures shown were of my old turf, my backyard, my front yard, and my living room. Those places were the inspiration and settings for my books and indeed my life in general. To see those sidewalks, my sidewalks, engulfed in destruction causes a pain that cuts in ways I struggle to articulate.
When organizations and individuals make declarations that this cataclysm changes the city, and the marathon forever, it simultaneously saddens and angers me. They misunderstand the spirit of the city and the resolve of Bostonians. Boston is the birthplace of the American Revolution. The city knows change, but it’s change that comes on our terms, not because of an act of terror, hate and a cowardly pitiful cry for attention from the forces of evil. This traumatic event does not undermine our values it strengthens them. Yes, evil is present, but it didn’t win. Witness the scores of people who instantaneously and heroically ran toward the blast, concerned only with helping others. Every time that happens, humanity wins. Bostonians in particular, do not cower or cave. Ever.
Perpetrators of evil will never win. There’s no other way to say it. You can never, ever, f*ck with Boston and expect to win. You will lose, and in time, Bostonians around the world, with sheer grit, will ultimately render you an irrelevant asterisk in the chronicle of our long history, enduring spirit and devotion to freedom and liberty. Boston is a gorgeous city and she’s never looked finer.