A dyed-in-the-wool Bostonian, now in New York, on how personal the Marathon attack felt.
Friday morning, in the midst of what was literally a 24-hour news cycle, I awoke to a text from my mother: “I’m glad you’re not living in Cambridge anymore.”
I couldn’t have disagreed more.
Shortly after the first reports of the explosions at the Boston Marathon, as it became clear that this was not an accident, I just wanted to be there. As I called, emailed and texted family, friends and old acquaintances throughout the afternoon and into the evening to make sure they were all right, I only wanted to be with them. While following the constant (and often misinformed) media reports during that endless week, I wanted to see it in person. What I wouldn’t have done to belt out the national anthem with the fans prior to the Bruins’ game, or hear Red Sox icon David Ortiz defiantly declare to the Fenway faithful that Boston is “our [bleepin’] city.”
And even with Boston and virtually every suburb within a 40-mile radius on lockdown, the streets, highways and squares completely deserted, with evil potentially lurking around the corner — I’m not certain but I believe the terrorists actually drove past my old apartment on their way to Watertown — I couldn’t help but want to get out from the safety of my small, overpriced Manhattan apartment and head straight home.
Like all Bostonians, the tragic bombing at the finish line on Patriots Day — a local holiday that celebrates virtually everything we hold dear: perseverance, knocking one back with friends, hard work, taking a day off from that hard work and, of course, a passion for sports — hit me on an intensely personal level.
For most people, where you come from isn’t just an answer to your own personal trivia question. It’s a part of what shaped you and made you the person you are today. It affects how you see yourself and how others see you. The laid-back Californian, friendly southerner, brash New Yorker and even-tempered Midwesterner. Who among us hasn’t heard Israelis described as prickly at least a few dozen times in their lives?
Me? I’m a Bostonian, my chippy inferiority complex firmly in tow. Thirty-one of my 35 years were spent in or around Boston, even as so many of my friends fled for one reason or another over the years. I vowed I would never leave and, if I was ever forced to, I would never, chas v’shalom, live in Yankee territory. Alas, the things we do for love. At least my wife didn’t fight me when I asked the band to play “Sweet Caroline,” the theme song of the Red Sox, at our wedding.
On Friday, with the heavily armed terrorists at large, everything in and around the city ground to a halt. The Red Sox game was cancelled. Schools were closed. Rabbis sent out e-mails advising Shabbat-observing Jews to try to leave a television on in their houses, and the Boston eruv was considered down because no one could perform the weekly checks and maintenance. The lockdown included my hometown, the towns where I worked, went to day school and college and even where I played basketball once a week.
Two hundred miles away it still felt like my family was in danger and I wasn’t around to defend myself or the people I loved. Instead, I was left doing what little I could from where I was: arranging for my minyan to say tehillim after Mincha; donating money to the victims; wearing a Boston cap to and from work as a show of support; and looking into running the Marathon next year, though it’s not to be as it falls on the seventh day of Passover.
Let me take a step back for a minute and make it clear that in no way do I consider myself a victim. Even those who were not physically harmed lost far more than I can imagine, and that’s without even getting into the post-traumatic stress disorder so many will develop. Hopefully one day they’ll be able to close their eyes without seeing those grisly images in their heads. I’m forever grateful for the mystical powers that made sure I was nowhere near the finish line, handing out cups of water to the exhausted runners like I used to do.
And I won’t dishonor the bravery of the first responders, emergency medical personnel or ordinary citizens helping out by pretending I would have had the courage to do what they did. I’m not that brave and I’m not that good.
Yet some part of me still wishes I was close, to stand strong, Boston Strong, with my city.
During the Gulf War, there were stories of people traveling to Israel so they could be there when the scud missiles started falling. Maybe they had far more faith in God than me or maybe they were nuts, which is what I remember thinking at the time. Whatever it was, I get it now, at least a little bit. No, as much as I love it, Boston is not a holy city and I don’t think that it has a heavenly seal of protection over it, something that I believe is reserved for the Jewish state. But when your home is threatened, your heart longs for it, even as everyone else is running in the opposite direction.
I wanted to be there to feel the pain, to mourn, to be scared and, eventually, to heal.
The people of New York and the rest of the country have supported Boston with gestures that will never be forgotten, doing their part and more to help everyone through this awful experience. But only those who’ve stood where you’ve stood and done what you’ve done can know just how it feels when innocent — so plainly innocent — men, women and children are maimed and killed in that exact spot, doing the exact same thing.
New Yorkers, better than anyone, understand that even when the entire nation is reeling from an attack on American soil, it’s far more difficult to recover when it happens in your backyard. The Boston Marathon bombing was in my backyard.
But I wasn’t.
Gabe Kahn is a writer living in New York.
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