Whew. Last week is finally over.
If you consider the guys who planted the bombs on Boylston Street, the Mississippian who sent ricin-laced letters to a senator and our president, and the husband and wife accused of murdering Texan law-enforcement officials—vermin we became aware of within one 48-hour period—you’d think we’re living in a perverse, creepy, cowardly, senseless, stupid, ridiculous country where violence is de rigueur and no one cares. Add to this picture the lily-livered senators who cowered before the NRA and couldn’t muster enough courage to vote for expanded background checks, and you’ll be thinking what a pitiful group of people we must be.
Then with the murder of an MIT police officer, a night of explosions, manhunts, shoot-outs, more bombs, a day-long lock-down and a capture, you might have decided Boston is more like Aleppo than an American city.
It made me want to go out and sweep the sidewalk.
I can get depressed about how wicked or shameful my fellow Americans can be. I can quickly descend into thinking this behavior is an example of American exceptionalism—that we’re here because some loser ancestors couldn’t make it in the old country, and they brought their pathology to this continent. That’s my low point.
I wasn’t the only one depressed. Bostonians couldn’t focus on the other problems of the week, since this city took the bombing personally. After the marathon, the bars weren’t packed as they should have been. People cried in the Common. Marathoners, past and present, grieved. One woman’s father had been president of the BAA’s Board of Governors, so it was her marathon, and she was filled with confusion and sorrow. Back Bay residents reported being warned by police officers that there might be more bombs and that they should head toward the Charles River. Everyone was sad.
Then good things happened. Finish-line bystanders rushed forward to save the injured before the smoke even settled. Runners kept running to donate blood. Doctors and nurses worked until after midnight and then returned to hospitals four hours later to continue to save those who had been maimed. King’s Chapel and other churches opened their doors all the next day for prayer and contemplation. Boston residents signed up to offer temporary housing to those who couldn’t get back to their hotels. New England Conservancy students took their instruments to Brigham and Women’s to offer musical comfort to the wounded. A Commonwealth Avenue resident baked brownies, which she distributed to police officers guarding her block. A Boston driver noticed a family trying unsuccessfully to flag a cab, so she stopped. They were headed to the airport. She took them. “Does this mean the people of Boston are nice?” asked the little girl she had picked up.
Another boost to the spirit was listening to the governor, mayor—who said Mumbles wasn’t articulate?—clergy and the president talk about the events Bostonians are enduring. Their remarks were humane, compassionate, intelligent.
Others have pointed out that Mayor Menino’s painful rise from his wheelchair at the interfaith service symbolized the city’s ability to rise from sorrow to triumph. It’s symbolism we needed. The president and first lady visited hospitalized victims and did so without secret service agents or a script. Bostonians are lucky to have leaders like this, behaving with resolve, wisdom, true empathy and compassion.
Law enforcement personnel also made us proud. The whole story will gradually reveal itself. There may have been slip-ups. There may have been false leads followed. The FBI didn’t recognize the older brother as a threat. So what? Second-guessing is the last refuge of the feckless. In the beginning of the week, Erin Burnett and other CNN commentators challenged the Boston Police: Did you have enough police officers at the marathon? It was enraging.
I know a lot about CNN because as I write this, I’m in California. I’ve been here since last Monday, when I learned about the bombings on a plane over the California/Nevada state line from a crawl across the screen on the seatback in front of me. I’ve spent a lot of hours with Wolf Blitzer.
And that’s why I want to get home to sweep my walk.
Most of us can’t do much in a situation like this. But we can do our best to keep our city clean, safe, happy and beautiful. I can hose down my walk so it doesn’t smell of dog pee. I can lobby my state senator and state representative to be as brave as our political leaders were in the late 1980s when they started the Big Dig that brought our city beauty. I want them to pour my tax dollars into the T, our bridges and roads and our schools. I can plant flowers in my window box. I can volunteer to teach English to immigrants.
The way we can honor Boston is to fix it, build it, clean it, improve it, care for it and its people in all ways in every neighborhood.
That’s my resolve.
Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.