19 April 2013

Nine miles away

Boston is a small town, much smaller than you probably think if you know it mostly from Cheers or eighth grade history. You can walk its length in a single afternoon, although you'll probably be sore the next day. There are 21 neighborhoods in Boston, but don't let that fool you. It's not so big.

As I'm typing this, Boston and several of its neighboring towns are under police lockdown while the search for Dzohkhar Tsarnaev continues. Perhaps the manhunt will end, one way or another, by the time I finish writing. The transit systems are not running; the schools are closed; citizens have been instructed to shelter in place—that is, stay home, stay off the streets. My wife and I have spent the morning bunkered in our basement watching the news and keeping watch over our respective laptops with our respective news sources. From time to time we point out some nugget of information to each other and hypothesize about its significance or lack thereof. Like everyone else, we have no particular insight into the brothers or what motivated their crimes. I personally doubt that they were affiliated with any larger group or had any agenda beyond their own sad ideology, but I have no basis for this beyond the feeling I get looking at the eyes of the photo of Tsarnaev that hangs on the left side of the news story. And now that photo is gone as the feed switched to men in fatigues—SWAT? Federal agents? I don't know—boarding armored personnel vehicles outside the Arsenal Mall, about nine miles away.

It's incredible to see the city so completely shut down and the thousands of police officers that have been mobilized. I've seen posts online questioning if the response is commensurate with the seriousness of the crimes committed. I can only speak for myself but it doesn't feel to me like the city is in the grip of hysteria or rage. The reaction feels somber, sad, and purposeful, just as the reaction to the Marathon bombing has been all week. There has been remarkable restraint and grace in the face of ugliness. People from around here often have a reputation for being scrappers, but they also have a reputation for being deliberate. That measured, careful quality that is one of the best traits of New Englanders has shone through. But probably it's the way anyone would react to events in their own back yard.

When the bombs went off on Monday, every Bostonian who heard the news knew that small stretch of Boylston street near the library, only too well. This morning when we first heard of the previous night's events we knew each and every one of the locations involved: MIT, Memorial Drive, Watertown, Cambridge. The Arsenal Mall is where we bought our daughter's dorm room supplies; now there's a Blackhawk helicopter in one of its parking lots. I may have mentioned—it's a small town.