Horror At The Boston Marathon

A Wary But Resilient Boston Keeps It Together, Defies Blasts That Tried To Tear It Apart

BOSTON

The bombs did not stop a field trip of first-graders from making a picnic lunch on the sidewalk outside the Old South Meeting House Tuesday afternoon.

No, the gruesome pressure cooker devices did not dissuade a Kansas City couple from setting out for a day on the Freedom Trail, less than 24 hours after their daughter cruised to a 3:01 marathon finish on what seemed like a charming Boston day until the bombs blew.

And in a cynical city where the wise guy morning DJs on WRKO didn't bother to take a break from making fun of the mayor after his solemn morning press conference and the police stood guard along Newbury Street with automatic weapons, Boston didn't just persevere. It fought back.

In full colonial garb on the edge of the Common, Aimee Rose Ranger buoyantly summed up the complicated mood for me.

"It's resilience," said Ranger, a Freedom Trail guide who grew up in Maine and who now lives in Cambridge and works as an actress. "We have a fearful city and I'm glad we are not shutting everything down. It's a like a celebration."

A celebration, but an uneasy one with guns, bomb-sniffing dogs, helicopters hovering overhead, and police and National Guardsmen blocking dozens of intersections. It was a blue-sky day perfect for Frisbee or a sandwich on a bench — until you saw that military encampment on the Common, right across the street from the iconic Make Way for Ducklings statues.

"Be vigilant,'' Gov. Deval Patrick said in the morning. "Boston will overcome,'' Mayor Thomas Menino promised. "We are all pulling together,'' U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren declared.

Meanwhile, a crime scene covering a dozen blocks clogged the heart of the city, turning Boylston Street into a surreal scene. In a city that sets its clocks by sports, the Bruins canceled Monday night and the Celtics bagged Tuesday night's game. "Why would people do things like that?'' Red Sox slugger David Ortiz asked a Boston Globe reporter. "How can this happen?"

A note wrapped around a bunch of white tulips sat in the middle of a street near the blast and said simply, "Stay Strong Boston.''

Duck boats, military vehicles and TV trucks shared the streets. Everywhere, from the sidewalks of Back Bay to the cafes at Faneuil Hall, the royal blue jackets of marathon runners stood out, as if to remind everyone, we're all still here.

Making my way to the Freedom Trail — what better place to gauge the city's mood after a creepy Patriots Day bomb attack? — I bumped into Richard and Jane Gorman, a British couple, at a chaotic street corner where runners were coming to trade in their numbers for a medal.

"I was opposite the second bomb,'' Jane Gorman told me, recalling her finish, a medal around her neck. Beside us, emotional runners came for their medals but dissolved into hugs and tears. "It was such a wonderful day,'' Gorman said.

What about Boston's infamous cool demeanor, I asked Gorman, who finished at just over 4 hours on her first visit to the United States.

"A lady offered me a coat'' during the moments after the blast, she said. "Another woman offered me a ride in her car. This city has been very welcoming to us."

"You have to carry on. You can't let them stop you."

Across Boston, residents opened their homes to runners who couldn't even find their sweat pants after the race. Doctors flooded the hospitals. Donors lined up to give blood.

And yet, once again, there was that sickening feeling that something may have changed forever in America. A place that has long felt so secure and easy to many of us — from Fenway Park to Faneuil Hall to the Swan Boats in the Public Garden — suddenly feels less so, despite the stiff upper lips I encountered all over town.

"Everyone is used to being so comfortable here, to have that disturbed, I don't think people are used to that,'' said Naveh Halperin, who was escorting a pack of first-graders on a field trip. When I found them, they were having a sidewalk picnic near the Old South Meeting House along the Freedom Trail.

"I'm from Israel. I recognized the sounds immediately,'' another adult with the group, Shalhavit Cohen, told me, explaining that they had been visiting the Public Garden on Monday, just blocks from the blast. "It got me angry. It's like, 'not again.' "

Setting out for a day in the city is what you do after something like this happens, Cohen said. "In Israel, you do that to show them they are not getting what they want.''

It was a noble, if sobering observation. Are we now like a lot of other parts of the world where bombs suddenly kill a little boy, blowing off the arms and legs of marathon runners? Anyone who has ever run or watched the 26-mile Boston Marathon party, where you can get close enough to touch the world-class athletes and the Wellesley girls slap you five (and even offer kisses) when you run by, has to wonder: Is it all different now?

Ranger, aka Judith Sargent Murray — an early advocate for women's rights — had a message for me and the world, before she left with her group on a 90-minute tour.

"John Winthrop, a leader of the Puritans, had a famous sermon," Ranger reminded me.

"We are a city on a hill," she said, paraphrasing Winthrop's much repeated quote about Boston, made famous by both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

"All eyes are on Boston."

 

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