We knew it could happen.
The capacity of humans to commit acts of evil? This is no surprise. The randomness of whether one is unscathed or killed? Familiar to all of us. The inability to make the universe as physically safe as a padded cell? We understand.
And yet, we are shocked at the horrific attack on the Boston Marathon.
We knew it could happen, because anything can happen, anywhere, to anyone, and we’d be fools not to notice the evidence in the headlines and in our neighborhoods. The professionals who devote their careers to protecting the public always operate as if the worst will indeed happen, because that is their job. But it is our job to operate otherwise. In other words, it is our job to live.
So even though we knew, we never expected it. And that is good.
What would it mean to expect mayhem? To assume that atrocities are looming, and act accordingly? To say to our happy and eager young children: “No, we will not join in this annual tradition of perseverance and celebration and awe and skill and a large dose of beautiful weirdness, because wherever crowds gather, calamity can lurk.”
I am not suggesting it is wise to ignore danger. I, as it happens, am a born worrier. Cautious to a fault, I am consistently biased towards disaster in my calculations of what could go wrong. This gives me the lifelong label of “Absolutely no fun at parties.” And don’t get me started about my unreasonable fear of flying or allowing anyone I know to fly. Or drive. Or bike. Or walk. In fact, it’s only with herculean effort that as a parent I kept my overprotective tendencies in check, more or less, though the jury’s still out on that one.
But I just flat out do not want to see the day that our thoughtful, measured, assessment of risk concludes that it is not appropriate to take part in the Boston Marathon.
I refuse to concede that it’s an unacceptable hazard to spend time with family and friends and strangers on a beautiful spring afternoon cheering on thousands of people challenging themselves to run 26. 2 miles.
As we weep for the victims and take solace in the heroics of first responders, we look ahead. Next Patriots’ Day, as I have my entire adult life, I plan to stand alongside the route once more, clapping until my palms are numb, shouting myself hoarse, shaking my head at feats of endurance and silly costumes, and reveling in the unpredictable jumble that is life. Life in this city I suddenly call home, with a vengeance.
Odd about that. My new-found allegiance came on strong as the tragedy sank in.
I’ve lived here since graduating college. If you do the math, that adds up to… a few years. Still, despite my unwillingness to budge, this neck of the woods has never been entwined in my identity. Sure, it’s a genuine metropolis, diverse and scholarly and evolving. But the soul of Boston is provincial. It’s a place full of townies and folks who’ve been here for generations. I was an outsider, and that suited me fine. Boston didn’t seem to need me, and I didn’t need to claim it. I’ve long been equal parts smitten-with and snarky-about this old burg — but it isn’t mine.
That changed on 4/15/13, forever.
This city is yours, ours, and — as of Monday — mine. Nobody hurts my home. No coward gets to murder and maim and demolish innocence, not on this turf. My kids were born and bred here, and it matters to them to come from Boston. Hundreds of miles away now at college, they are heartbroken and furious over the attack on the event they treasure, in the city they love. They are proud of their hometown. I stand with my sons; what mother could not?
This, too, we knew could happen. Something could turn us holdouts into Bostonians. If only that something were almost anything but this.
Boston Marathon Bombings
Three people were killed and more than 170 injured when two bombs exploded on April 15, 2013 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Cognoscenti Contributors Respond
- Kevin Donovan: Explosions Sounded Like Cannon Fire
- Jim Walsh: They Picked On The Wrong City
- Robin Young: Our History Will Be A Guide For The Future
- David Ropeik: Why Terrorism Works
- Eileen McNamara: The Redemption Of The Man In The Cowboy Hat
- Alex Ashlock: The Scenes I Will Remember
- Sharon Brody: Suddenly Calling Boston Home — With A Vengeance
- E.M. Swift: Spectator Sports Will Never Be The Same
- Anita Diamant: After The Bombs, Pop-Up Landmarks Of Consolation And Solidarity
Related Coverage from WBUR, NPR and AP