Faneuil Hall, Boston. (Flickr/Tony Fischer)
It’s Sunday and Harvard and Cambridge have started to recover a sense of normalcy—but not quite.
Yesterday my older son texted me the picture of his friend Sylvan with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and their dates, headed off to the high school prom three years ago. My younger son had come home Monday, reporting that one of his schoolmates, a girl who wanted to be a ballerina, had been among the 170 injured at the Marathon finish line. Since then, we’ve learned she’s lost her leg.
Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan freed the driver of the Mercedes SUV they hijacked, after killing the MIT policeman, at the Shell station where I’ve bought gas for years, and then fled into the Watertown neighborhood where I used to take my boys for baseball practice. The brothers lived, I learned a few hours ago, just two blocks from the hockey rink where my sons have skated for more than a decade. We’ve driven past the triple-decker where the Tsarnaev boys grew up hundreds of times.
So the drama that played out nonstop on global television Friday has been about my and my family’s life, and the neighborhoods in Cambridge and adjacent Watertown where we’ve live normal lives for more than twenty years.
Nothing Friday—or since Monday really—was normal in Cambridge. Yet as events unfolded, I found myself less fearful of imagined dangers nearby than dismayed by almost everything about the coverage and official reactions to what was unfolding.
My parents lived through the Depression and Second World War; they’d been children in the First World War; and they’d taught us in the Cold War fifties and sixties not to be fearful but to be brave—and quiet about our bravery. When President Kennedy was assassinated, we all wept—but I don’t remember Walter Cronkite offering therapeutic advice to viewers or Lyndon Johnson keening on about “our” suffering and fears.
After the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, there was no maudlin outpouring of “understanding,” no calls for us to hug our children or for our parents to hug us. The Secret Service agents who threw themselves over Kennedy’s slumped body and raced his open limousine to Parkland Hospital, the colleagues of King who cradled him in his last moments on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel or the people who grabbed Sirhan Sirhan and disarmed him in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel weren’t hailed for their “unbelievable courage as first responders,” or held up as icons for veneration. Instead they were respected—quietly respected—for doing what was expected. They had been brave—they knew it, we knew it. That was enough.
Almost everything about the press’s and officialdom’s reactions has struck one false note after another this past week. What happened in Boston was horrific? Really? Hiroshima was horrific; Dresden was horrific; Dachau and Auschwitz, they were horrific.