Billet Doux for Boston (Which Prefers That to a Hug)

Much has been written and said about the city of Boston in these stunning days since the marathon bombing— mostly by media strangers who know the city from a distance, if at all.

I not only lived in Boston for years, but I was the manager of the Emergency Room of the then “Peter Bent Brigham Hospital” (now Brigham and Women’s) then and always a great medical center tied to Harvard’s Medical School. So I remember the disaster drills as well as the real disasters that sometimes blasted through the ER doors: I remember particularly the first explosion victim I saw. In his case, most of his skin was blasted off exposing him to all the bleeding, pain and infection such a trauma would deliver. Once stabilized in the ER he was sent upstairs to the House, but all the great skills beneath the Brigham’s roof could not save this quiet and dignified victim.

I was a young woman then, yet the image of that sweet, hurting man is as clear in my grandmother memory as it was all those years ago. So Boston’s recent traumatic events are clear in my imagination as well, and the idea of so many trained and healthy bodies being ripped apart on Boylston Street in broad daylight is difficult to process.

In many ways, the Boylston/Copley area personifies Boston. It is elegant, reserved, in the center of the action, intellectual, proud of its roots, and, yes, not as much welcoming as it is tolerant of outsiders.

Boston is not hip. It is not the Big Apple and does not aspire to be. It is not a tough broad as much as it is a dignified matron still alert, savvy, professional, and only reservedly available to strangers. All of this means that an attack on the city at its core wounds deeply not only because of the obvious terror, destruction, death and maiming involved, but also because the privacy of this city which revels in its unique clannishness has been violated.

The boundaries of Boston society have been stretched over the centuries. Where once Boston Brahmans held unchallenged sway and racists like Louise Day Hicks warred to keep minorities in their place, an admirable integration and cooperation among its many groups of citizens is all but seamless today. The historic North End once the exclusive home of Boston’s Italian-American community now houses students and families from around the world. Where in my youth shops sold fresh mozzarella, and restaurants served exclusively Italian foods, delicacies from Eastern Europe, Asia and beyond are readily available. Even Southie, the last bastion of Irish-American isolationism has accepted and even embraced its newer neighbors with roots as far as hemispheres away from the Blarney Stone or Fenway Park.

This more recent blending of the color lines in the rainbow over Boston does not mean ethnic pride is dead, any more than it has disappeared from any of America’s great cities. But like New York after 9/11 or Oklahoma City after its dark inauguration of America’s terrorist era, those who attack us will see only an instant and unbreakable cohesion of all who pride themselves as Bostonians, wherever their roots.

The tens of thousands who run-- and 160 times before this bombing have run--  toward the finish line of the annual Patriots’ Day marathon are Boston. They have many faces and speak many languages. Their children may worship different gods, celebrate diverse feasts and embrace assorted political beliefs, but this is Boston-- where even differences are viewed with a kind of reserved dignity because privacy reigns.

Long after the TV satellite vans leave Copley Square for the next news story, Boston will still be coping—quietly, efficiently and admirably. In its very long historic memory, this devastating moment will be nurtured by Bostonians as they still nurture the plants in Boylston Street’s Victory Gardens to remind them of the wars and hard times they survived in the past. And the ultimate meting out of justice in this great matron of a city will probably not be brash or even bloody. But it will come.

When it does, it will typically showcase the contained satisfaction or a varied yet united population quietly celebrating the eventual day when those who violated their beloved capital city will be brought to their knees—not with a sword, but with the steely gaze Bostonians know how to give to those who simply do not belong in their dignified and justice-loving midst.

Until that day comes, Bostonians will just keep on loving and aiding their city and its newly wounded, each in his or her own private way.

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Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Italy Series of articles runs Aug./Sept/Oct 2015

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"JOACHIM" - Oct. '92-March '08

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