The Diamond in the Rough

I’ve known for weeks that this was going to be a busy and exciting week for me: several writing and editing projects I’m working on are due, I have two speaking engagements (one, at Harvard on April 27, I’ll be writing more about soon; the other is a private talk to homeschoolers at a local library), and my band is playing a gig on Saturday night (we’re the opening act for a record release party at the All Asia in Central Square). But the horrors from last week color everything I think and do now.

As I write a funeral service is being held in a Medford church for one of the bomb victims and a huge American flag is draped across Medford City Hall. My wife, Day, has gone back to work at school after a week off, but she was warned last night to deflect questions about the bombing to the school’s administration: it turns out the “White Hat” bomber was a student at the school during 2005 (though Day did not know him). The events of last week continue to unsettle us in myriad ways, and probably will for some time. I now have an inkling about how people who live in war zones or areas afflicted with constant terrorist activity must feel as they attempt to keep their lives “normal” in the face of surprise attacks—and all I suffered was anxiety.

Like many Bostonians, I have a strong sense of being violated because the fabric of my everyday life is deeply stained by these recent events. Traveling, working, and living in and around Boston since the mid-1970s, my familiar stomping grounds include Copley Square, Watertown, Cambridge, and Belmont (my wife’s family is from Belmont and Watertown), and I have nothing but fond memories of all the marathons I attended during college or watched from the Holt office (729 Boylston St.). In fact, I was at a meeting in Watertown on Thursday night, leaving the area just a couple of hours before the firefight and explosions started not far from where I was.

After I arrived home from Watertown, my mother-in-law called to be sure we were all home safe because she just learned that an MIT officer was shot and killed earlier on Mass. Ave. That call put us a bit on edge, but the news reports we watched didn’t conclusively link the shooting to the terror suspects, and we eventually turned the TV off and went to sleep. My daughter Alison and I both woke up an hour or so later because we heard distant explosions (Watertown is about four miles away), but we went back to bed when it became quiet again, not certain if they were explosions, trucks backfiring, or something else. Then, around 6AM, our phone started ringing with urgent messages: Bunker Hill Community College called to tell Alison school was canceled “for safety reasons.” Day’s dad in Florida called next to be sure we knew about the firefight in Watertown (where he grew up as a teenager), and from that moment on we had the television on. Then came calls from local officials telling us to stay off the roads, stay indoors, use caution, and the stream of messages on the TV seemed just as dire: close down your business, stay home, don’t open the door except for police officers with proper identification. When I came home Thursday night from Watertown I thought life was going back to a ”new normal” after the marathon bombing; I had no idea the new normal would include being in lock down while the police conducted a huge manhunt.

I write not to whine, but to understand how even someone who is just tangentially touched by the horrific events of last week can be so deeply affected by them. My band was scheduled to play three sets at a restaurant in Chelsea that Friday night but our younger band members led the move to cancel the gig because they were so worn out by the events of the day. I’m glad we canceled so we could rest from the tense week and especially that weird Friday; but I’m also sad we canceled because it would have been an epic, cathartic gig that celebrated the capture of the second terrorist; but we had no idea that was going to happen when we made the decision to cancel earlier that evening.

And that’s just it: We don’t really know what’s going to happen.

From the minute the bombs went off the media reported all sorts of information about what was going on that later proved to be inaccurate, false, or of no consequence; for me, the media rollercoaster ride was as exhausting as the events themselves! I got a headache trying to follow the breaking news and I have a deeper respect for law enforcement professionals who, despite all the dead ends they had to follow, continued to stay focused and energetic about their work.

All the uncertainty and randomness of life got thrown in our faces in Boston last week, reminding us of the thin line we walk each day between life and death. The bombing also displayed the kindness of strangers, as demonstrated by the many civilians who helped the wounded and calmed others at the bomb site. We are, indeed, “our brothers’ keeper,” and, particularly in the midst of tragedy, common people are needed to help as much as specialists. That, to me, is the diamond to be found in the rough of the past week’s terror.