Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Forever Your Power and Strength Stays With Me

Nothing makes you feel more a resident of your home than being somewhere you aren't from.  When I was at school in Washington, DC, I must have had the same conversation a thousand times - in dorm lounges, yelled over music in bars, in cafeterias at work, on the Metro.

"So where you from?"
"Massachusetts, a city called Worcester, it's right in the middle of the state."
"So like...Cape Cod?"
"No, more like...you know what, Boston."

Boston is Massachusetts' pride and its passport.  No matter where you go, Boston is the Rosetta Stone; once you mention Boston, people have a picture...a city by the sea, with two lamps shining in the Old North Church, awash in that ridiculous accent, all tinged with green, with the USS Constitution in the background.  Also, lobsters.  But more than anything, a kind of gritty resilience.  To pretty much everyone I've ever met who has an idea of Boston, it's a place where you can make it if you're a grinder.  It's one of the last places people feel like you can hack out an existence on sheer will alone, and the city won't begrudge you.  It's not New York, where the city's "make it here, make it anywhere" charm is rooted in the idea that the City will keep trying to pull your success away, to keep you humble.  Neither of these things is true, of course - you can live a good, solid life in New York and you can get dumped on continually by Boston - but that's how it feels.  And when you are trying to make it in Boston, you do feel it.  You feel like you can make it.

I have had some of the worst years of my life in and out of Boston these last three years.  I have gotten divorced, I have struggled through graduate school at Boston University, I have found roadblock after roadblock.  What kept me going, though, was Boston, in all its forms.  My beautiful sister lives in the North End, the sweetest neighborhood in the city, and when I walk down Hanover Street home from Government Center, I see friends along the way, people I know through my sister, working at restaurants with windows thrown open to the sidewalks with the scents swirling out into the air.  I walk past Paul Revere's statue, with the Old North Church rising behind him, and past the fire station wedged in amongst the tall apartments, with their Boston Bruins championship banner and the Worcester Six hockey jersey hanging over the trucks.  I have studied along the Charles River, watching the crews skim over the water, and I've spent hours laughing and studying with Erin at Cornwalls. I've fought my way to class through Opening Day crowds...Fenway Park is right there, just waiting for you to ditch class and walk over.

These are just pictures of the last few hard years.  They come together with a lifetime of memories before them...Red Sox games with Dad and Grandad, Mario Lemieux's last game in Boston, the time Lucy and I babbled ourselves silly at David Sedaris' book signing at the Harvard Bookstore.  New Year's Eve with Scott, John and Matt.  The lightning show at the Museum of Science.  Long walks with Chris and dinners with Pierce.  Seeing The Police at Fenway Park and Lady Gaga at the Garden.  The T on the way to Sox games.  Christmas Eve with my sister and family at Strega.  Snow outside the Casablanca.  Copley.  Faneuil Hall.  Quicy Market.


I have exactly one friend I have known my entire life, and she was running the Marathon yesterday.  In fourth grade, Anna told me she wanted to be a physical therapist, and that's what she is doing today.  She had to stop at mile 25, when they shut down the marathon, but I think it's pretty evident she would have not only finished, but continued on, run all the way home to San Diego if she'd felt like it, or maybe just to our little island down the road, Block Island.  My whole second family was in Boston to watch her.

Anna was okay, and so was our family, and so were my friends and my sister.  The thing is, I know how crushing it must have been to have to stop. When you grow up near Boston, it looms so large.  We celebrate Patriot's Day here, which is basically an excuse to shut down the state for the Marathon.  Any marathon is an undertaking, but the Boston Marathon, especially for those of us from here, is something bigger.  To attack it is to attack something fundamental about Boston, it's to take a swing at Boston itself.  There has been a lot of "messed with the wrong city" bluster going around, but I can't feel anything but sad.  Doing something like this to something so good, that exists only to illuminate a city and to lift people up, is a darkness beyond what I can understand.

That said.

I know Boston will be okay, because it is a city of grinders.  It is a city of grinders and good people and friendly cab drivers and big personalities and smart people doing smart things and people overly attached to both Sam Adams and the Red Sox and good bartenders and people who never leave, even when they live in San Diego, and people who just love really damn hard.  I know Boston will be okay.