A friend asked me last week if I was afraid of going downtown, on the metro, or being in DC in general right now. I was confused for a second, before I realized we had been talking about Boston a few minutes before.
There are few moments when I can be rendered speechless. It’s a writer’s nature to put the overwhelming into words, whether of love or horror, but even we can be caught up with the moment. The past two weeks has one of them. There were no words, only a storm of memories and emotion. Before 9/11, my first of such moments were beautiful. Holding my baby sister for the first time. My first kiss. Surprise birthday parties. The little things that are both common and profound to the young. They teach us so much about how to exult in experience. We learn wonder, awe, and the magic of life.
Some of us experience the flipside earlier than others. 9/11 was my first, as a preteen able to comprehend the utter horror. Hyper-aware and intelligent, it rocked my world as I watched my parents crumble along with the news’ footage of the towers. While adults held their children close, we learned the fragility of our world. Our buildings crash down. Villains are real. And our parents and presidents aren’t invincible. But they can be superheros, after a fashion. Living smack dab between NYC and DC, we all knew people. NYPD and fire-fighters. My best friend’s aunt worked at the Pentagon. My godmother lived in Manhattan. My parents worried about the impact such horror would have on their kids, but adults got the worst of it. They’re the ones with a rocked sense of safety. One of my strongest memories from 2001 was an overwhelming feeling of family. When the worst happens, that love is what saves us. And families will always remember.
I was in high school when Katrina hit. Every school sport, club, and team exploded with various fundraisers. Again, humanity’s great family rallied together to grieve and heal. I have yet to visit New Orleans, but the greatest repeated admiration of the endlessly hurricane-battered city is for the defiantly vibrant statement they make. Weather won’t ever change their joie de vivre.
A few years later, my cell phone rang during a French lecture. It was my mom. Another ring; another “je suis très désolé”. My phone continued to vibrate. An apologetic “c’est ma mère” got me into the hallway. She choked out to come home. Refusing to tell me details via phone, something had happened. My professor should cancel class, the university would be shutting down. I was too young to remember Columbine as more than a whispered story, but Virginia Tech threatened my own blood. I never was more grateful for having gone to college in my hometown more than that day, spent clutching my mother in front of the TV, waiting for my brother to finally call in that he was safe. Big Bro and a whole pile of friends are Hokies, and thankfully all survived. I wore maroon and orange with a sibling’s pride to my campus vigil. We are Virginia Tech, and we are strong.
I have experienced great tragedy in my life. From a young age, into adulthood. From something as personal as a friend lost to cancer, leaving me feeling like the whole world has changed… well, to the whole world actually changing after terrorist attacks. I have seen friends off to war to be shot, and friends have been shot in the ignored warfare waged on our own streets here. Each time, the flurry of phone calls to see who could have been watching Batman in Aurora, or might be homeless after Sandy, are made. Each time, news– both good and bad– trickles through jammed cell towers. I hold a great number of runners and Bostonians in my heart; this time, my loves are all safe.There isn’t much I can say about Boston that hasn’t already been said by the more prominent. President Obama’s speech caught my breath, with the quote about Boston being a state of grace. My favorite laugh came from a spoof-Happy Gilmore twitter, “Boston is probably the only major city that if you fuck with them, they will shut down the whole city…stop everything.. and find you.” And Stephen Colbert made me cry. “These maniacs might have tried to make life bad for the people of Boston, but all they can ever do is show just how good those people are.”
Because it’s true. When the evil fight to bring us down, the only thing good people can do is continue our lives in strength and grace. I would be lying if I said I have never flicked away a grain of fear for living in the US capital. I am far too informed to ignore the target this city makes to a mess of bad people. DC is undoubtedly an iconoclasm magnet. But that won’t keep us away from the places we love. We get back on to the Metro. We return to the Washington Monument. We continue life. This week, a group of runners organized a Run for Boston. I couldn’t attend, but a fellow blogger did a great write-up: thanks for running and writing, Dana. Great cities will always attract envy. Like our sister, Boston, Washington has a heaping of love, pride, and good people. What they, and the rest of the world’s response, embody is an undeniable human power. Threats only serve to strengthen our resolve. Our fragility isn’t a weakness, but a treasure. It makes us resilient. And there is nothing as inspiring, nothing to remind us of our original awe and wonder at the magic in life, as this resilience of the fragile.
And like all good people, we will hunt you down. So don’t fuck with us.