I've been trying to edit student papers all day, but to no avail. I keep sneaking back to the news. To see if investigators got him or them. To learn why.
I'm not finding answers.
My school, Emerson College, is but four or five blocks from the end of the Boston Marathon, that place of celebration turned to unspeakable horror Monday. Marathoners test body and soul to endure a distance just over 26 miles. This year, some of their most fervent fans gave their lives and limbs to cheer them on.
Emerson President Lee Pelton closed the campus Tuesday for a day of reflection. I kept trying to make it a day of work. I didn't much succeed. I want answers, damn it. Don't we all.
Like many Bostonians transplanted from elsewhere, I've made this region my home despite its cool, damp springs, its snowy winters, and the reserved nature of its natives, who love to celebrate their sports but otherwise aren't known for their personal warmth.
I've stayed because this is a most livable city. A place of brains and quality. Of neighborhoods. Of small bars and restaurants. Of parks. It's a city one can walk across in an hour on a nice summer day, where festivals and fairs spill from parks to streets on just about any summer weekend. It's a place for kids, little and big, with great science and children's museums, a water taxi that costs but a few bucks from the Navy's historic Constitution to the aquarium, a baseball stadium -- downtown -- that's home not just to a team, but to Red Sox Nation.
And if Bostonians aren't warm and cuddly, they're cordial enough, smarter than most, proud of their region's history and roots. This isn't a city of flash and pizzazz. It's substantive, not showy. But that, perhaps, is what I like best about it, that and how easy it is to escape to a beach or mountain, to a cranberry bog or pond where one can launch a kayak or canoe. It's a city for families, for generations, lively enough, but not so lively that it overwhelms.
Until Marathon Monday. The terroristic bombs spit nails not only into flesh, but into the city's sense of self -- its spirit, its endurance, its community. I've never run a marathon. But as a boy I ran distance, a sport of both solitude and solidarity with those around you. Marathon day is one of individual and communal pride, for runners and onlookers alike. This was a car crash on graduation day.
Now, as early spring turns balmy (probably sometime in June), will Bostonians shutter themselves indoors more? Will they shy away from the outdoor music and food, laughter and crowds that make summer and fall here as embracing as anyplace I've lived or traveled in my more than six decades? Will reserve turn to suspicion and silence?
Somehow, I suspect not. Because beneath Bostonians' reserve roils a toughness seen at every rotary and roadway merger. Put bluntly, Bostonians also can be an ornery bunch -- the kind of people who'll pass on the left when you're trying to turn their way and who will play chicken when two cars meet head-to-head on a one-lane street. It's not a trait I'd call endearing. It is one that will help this city fight back.
The Pilgrims survived bleak mid-winter and witch trials to build a home and a colony. Modern Bostonians? It's a safe bet that even the brutality of Monday's bombing won't cow them either.