The first time I stepped foot on the streets of Boston, I felt I had found my place, my city. That was in September of 1963. I was a teenager, starting my freshman year at Boston University with the whole world seemingly at my feet, endless possibilities, an unknown but surely magical future lay ahead.
Fifty years, has it really been fifty years? There were times, gaps, when I took flight from Boston for excitement, opportunities in far-flung places, sometimes years passed, but to Boston I always returned. It is a most beautiful city and I have seen some beautiful cities; Paris, Rome, Zurich, Prague, Barcelona, but Boston was always the best. I’d breathe a sigh of comfort and relief as soon as the pilot announced we were about to land at Logan. The plane would swoop in low along the coastline, you could see the hook of Cape Cod extending it’s finger out into the ocean like a beckoning gesture; “yes, you are coming home”.
The cab would race along Storrow Drive, and no matter what the season, the beauty of the Charles River (well, we did go through a bad stretch in August in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s when the smell was not that great but we tackled that problem and the river is now swimable in parts and you no longer need a tetanus shot if you fall off your sailboat into the formerly murky waters) that divides Boston from our sister city in Cambridge never failed to charm me. In winter, the snow-covered shore was like an ermine wrap around a proud dowagers shoulders, gracing the backsides of the brownstones that lined the Boston side of the Charles. In Summer the rich green of the well kept grass and dense leafy canopy of the many trees offered a protective place to spread a blanket and hear the free concerts at the Hatch Shell. I’ll never forget the enthusiastic applause for Arthur Fiedler when he was a fixture leading the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra on the 4th of July. That was before the days when every backpack had to be searched for fear of the devastation it might hold. Back then it was just a picnic lunch or a bottle of wine.
September 11th, 2001 dragged Boston out of it’s innocence. Those planes that held the hatred that shattered so many lives on that day, one of those planes left from our airport, from our city, Boston. We were not the targets, but we were implicated, we were dragged, kicking and screaming into a world of terror and fear and suspicion that changed everything, everything on that day. For all of us who were born after WWII – who did not serve in Korea or Vietnam or were too young to know – this event was the defining moment in our humanness. Who are we? What is this thing that is happening to us? We all asked the same questions over, and over, and over again as we watched those planes that crashed into those towers, over and over, and over again.
In time the fear faded but never completely. The background announcements on the T’s public address system “If you see something, say something” seemed threatening at first, than ubiquitous, merging with our muffled sense of paranoia and fear that became our new normal.
But Spring, Spring in Boston is a joyful time. It is hard to hold on to fear when the magnolias are blooming on Commonwealth Ave, and the swan boats are getting ready for their launch in Boston Garden, when the Red Sox have played their first game at Fenway Park and people from all over the world are flooding into the city to run the Marathon, our sporting event that is truly our gift to the world. We invented a holiday, Patriots Day, so the entire state of Massachusetts could take off from work and we could cheer for our friends, family and colleagues as they ran the 26 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street in downtown Boston.
Although I never ran those 26 miles I felt a part of the celebration, every year for fifty years and although I recently left the city for my adopted home in Vermont, I still was drawn back to Boston and felt at home again this Patriots Day. As I write this I feel the hot tears running down my cheeks. The hot tears for those who died on this Patriots Day, the hot tears for those who lost their limbs, and for those brave medics, police and fellow citizens who were there, who responded, who only wanted to help, my fellow Bostonians. My beautiful city. I cry for you.