“Did you see the news?”
On the morning of Monday, April 15th, I had dropped off my children at school, then returned home to work. Feeling the weight of a deadline, I had been engrossed in writing for several hours when my husband called. Hearing his question, I felt my stomach tighten. My husband only asks me if I’ve seen the news when something truly terrible has occurred.
“No, what happened?”
As he told me of the initial reports of the Boston Marathon bombing, I opened a browser on my laptop and began to read through the headlines. The searing photos were hard to comprehend. As I read the details of what was known at the time—how the joyful finish line celebrations had been rocked by explosions without warning, how scores had been injured—I felt a deep and painful sadness, and a sense of loss for Boston.
That afternoon, I picked up my young sons from school, and was relieved to find they were unaware of the events from across the country. “Hey Mom,” my older said, “we have to remember to wear shorts with pockets on Thursday, because that’s Poem in Your Pocket Day.” I smiled as he described his school’s tradition of celebrating poetry by having each child either write or locate a poem to literally carry in his or her pocket that day, to share with classmates and to experience a bit of the fun and beauty of words. I couldn’t help but think of the juxtaposition of visions in my brain: the jagged and broken scenes from the bombing mixed with images of children, pockets bursting with tidily folded bits of poetry.
Over the next few days, I felt myself—almost obsessively—wanting to learn more about what was happening in Boston. Which was strange, when I thought about it. Here I was, living with my family more than 5,000 miles away from the East Coast, and yet the bombing had struck such a chord with me. Yes, as an American, I was deeply affected by its senselessness and randomness, and its reminder of our vulnerability. But even beyond that, the reason I felt connected to what had happened was that on some level, I still felt Boston was my community.
I had called Boston “home” for two years when I attended graduate school, and like any place one thinks of in that way, I still carried with me memories of and connections with the city. I had met incredible people through my studies, and forged friendships built on shared interests and common passions. I had explored the sights and sounds of New England there, like the glorious arrival of autumn and the crunch of fallen leaves on my morning walks across the Public Garden. I had learned a flinty toughness from that town, surviving two Boston winters—no simple feat. And my husband and I had been married in Boston, in a little art gallery on Newbury Street, just blocks away from the Boston Marathon’s finish line.
The connection I felt to Boston in its time of crisis was, I realized, born from those memories and emotions that I continued to carry with me from my time there. Much as I felt on 9/11, having moved to Boston from New York City, I felt a solidarity with the city because I had felt ownership of it, if only for a brief time. Boston had shaped who I was, and was becoming; the rhyme and meter of the city had become part of my own verses. And so, much like my son’s anticipated poem, I carried a bit of Boston in my pocket, as I had carried—and still carry—a bit of every city and town in which I’ve lived.
On Friday, as news of the death of one bombing suspect and the capture of the other spread through the Internet, I felt a sense of relief. Again I thought, how strange it is to feel this way when all these events are happening at such a distance. But in some way, it does make sense. As people, we crave connection, and we seek community. So often we define “community” geographically, but community is larger than that. It spans space and time, language and culture. Sometimes circumstance gives us our communities, but other times, we create community through our connections. We need only witness the extraordinary outpouring of support from around the world to know this is the case—that this past week, the community of Boston reached around the globe. Every person who ever called Boston “home”—or strolled its streets, admired its skyline, ran a marathon, cheered on a race’s runners, or welcomed spring with an annual ritual—felt a connection with the city. Last week, we all carried a bit of Boston in our pocket.