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Reaction to Tragedy: A Neighborhood Forever Changed

By Steve Harnish

The news of the Marathon bombings has, of course, reached far and wide and has had many world leaders offering condolences from afar and locals tweeting their resoluteness. A horrible tragedy befell our city and the outpouring of love and sympathy from across the globe helps heal. Leaders from around the world have chimed in—Boston celebrities and sports figures have assured us they are with us. This was clearly an attack on an event—the Boston Marathon- a treasured city-wide block party- it’s truly the best day of the year in Boston- Red Sox game at 11 AM—the city is full all week and the Marathon is run on Patriot’s Day- a day celebrating the birth of American Independence. The rest of the week is school vacation week and the city teems with tourists and families from all over Massachusetts taking in the city dressed in all its Spring glory.

But the tragedy that happened, happened in a neighborhood, which happens to be my neighborhood. I don’t want to talk about the enormity of what happened- there’s plenty of that out there. I want to talk about the intimacy of what happened. What I keep thinking of is all the everyday images for me and my neighbors that are in the horrible footage. Soon the FBI, the National Guard and S.W.A.T. teams and the crowds will disperse. But Boylston St. is my Main St. The Lenscrafters that had its windows blown out is where I get my glasses. My son’s former pre-school is less than 50 yards from the first blast. I shop at the Trader Joe’s right there. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow less than 2 blocks from the finish line. The Boston Public Library is our library- directly across the street from the blast.

It makes me think of people that live in places where bombings are a real part of life. Have we become that? I hope not—again, I believe this was directed at an event, not our city—maximum exposure to a worldwide event. But after the smoke clears, our neighborhood is a different place- a place where people’s legs are blown off; a place where a beautiful 8 year old can lose his life for no good reason. A place that, as I rode my bike home from work last night past Humvees, soldiers, state police and roadblocks everywhere, just didn’t look like home. It looked like places I’ve read about. My son is on vacation, in Vermont with his Mom and friends. I’m struggling with how to tell him what happened less than 100 yards from the daycare where he used to run with his friends; across the street from the Game Stop where he buys his video games.

There will be many words written about the heroes and the victims over the next few days. And they will be well deserved. I cannot begin to describe my sympathy for the victims nor my unbridled awe for those that rush into danger to help others. But, I also think, on a human scale, it’s important to remember the people who will be left behind after the cameras leave, when the investigation is over, when the President has said his piece; the people that live and work here. We joyously share our neighborhood every year with hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe. Yes, I grumble about the crowds, but I also love the fact that my neighborhood is home to such a wonderful global event. For one day each year it seems like Boston- and my neighborhood in particular- is the best place in the world; a place where everyone really wants to be. Especially, when the sun hits the Hancock just right and the Red Sox have won, the crowds are cheering the runners, the liquor is flowing in the bars and it’s nice enough to sit outside.

I’ve always been amazed in years past how quickly and efficiently the whole scene is cleaned up. Overnight, a street that was full of runners and revelers, news cams and dignitaries is transformed back into the everyday street of pharmacies and bars, stores and libraries.

As I rode my bike home late last night around the perimeter of the massive crime scene I noticed hundreds of green Gatorade cups blowing down deserted St James St, neglected by far more important matters. The cups will get picked up eventually, the world will soon turn to another story, our neighborhood will become a neighborhood again—but it won’t be the same.


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