Friday, April 19, 2013

I am proud of my city tonight

I am proud of my city tonight.

It has been a long and unusual day, locked down in our home while every law enforcement agent for a hundred miles was searching through Watertown for the second Marathon bomber.  Everything felt both nervous and detached at the same time: we weren't even technically in the lock-down zone, since we are just over the border away from Cambridge, but my office is in Cambridge, and it all just felt too close for comfort to go outside, and especially not with a baby.  Yet at the same time, I felt basically safe: one of the amazing things about our informational age is that I could be sitting here, in my apartment, and know the minute that something critical occurred, popping up in the feed on my computer or phone.  So I knew that nothing was likely to occur in our neighborhood.

Still, it's been with us all day.  It's why I quickly decided that today could not be a work day for me, not even from home.  There was simply too much on my mind, and I wanted to take my time here with my family and just be.  Last night, when the suspects killed Sean Collier, the MIT police officer who died, they did it right outside the building where I completed my Ph.D.  I know the spot well, having walked or biked across it many times.  The 7-11 they were reported to have robbed (though it seems to have turned out otherwise), it is right on the corner by the building where I meet my synthetic biology collaborators.  When they carjacked somebody over by Third Street, that is where I used to drive all the time, getting from my previous apartment to the lab and back.  The gas station where the carjacking victim escaped them is where I used to fuel up when I lived in Cambridgeport, right after undergrad.  The area the police were searching in Watertown is back behind where all the good Armenian bakeries are, and the place the suspect was finally caught is just a couple of blocks from where I bought my car.  The apartment where the brothers Tsarnaev lived?  Just 15 minutes walk from from us, on the other side of Inman Square.  So this whole drawn out incident feels very close to home, but at the same time almost surreal.  And I can still hear the helicopters overhead, as I have been able to since late morning.

So with all of this in the ambient, what is it that's making me proud of my city?  What makes me proud is the way that the city has responded.

I remember, after the attacks of September 11th, that my first thought was how scared I was of what our response would be as a nation.  What depths we might lower ourselves to, having been stung so badly by those attacks.  And I think that I was right to have feared that.

Here, from the moment when this attack occurred, there has been a sense of measured judgement and sympathy in the response of people.  Even while the first responders were delivering first aid, Bostonians came out of their homes to feed, warm, and house the stranded runners.  While CNN speculated wildly about Saudis, the local media has been rock solid, clearly distinguishing known and unknown, and getting us real information while never reporting rumor as news.  And then today...

Today, while a million citizens were shut up in their homes, the whole city seemed to me to feel like an embrace of "keep calm, carry on."  There's something scary and deadly going on out there, but we've put our trust in tax-funded professionals who are moving cautiously and deliberately.  People from within the search zone, sought out and interviewed by the media, really portrayed the best of Boston's tough but peaceful values.  And as the picture of the suspects continued to develop, I haven't yet heard anyone drop into xenophobic or Islamophobic rants.  Over and over, the direction goes more towards sorrow and sympathy, and a strength that has nothing to do with aggression or revenge.

That's something that I think we need to celebrate.  Our strength, as a free and liberal society, to find a place for the whole breadth of the world, in open celebrations of humanity like the Boston Marathon itself, and to hold and embrace that even in the face of what horrors the world can bring.  It takes a great moral courage and strength to do that, far more than it does to throw up walls to try to keep out the world and seek safety in isolation.  We have always been strong on the strength of our diversity, and even amidst tragedy and fear, I heard that strength in every word that came from Greater Boston today, all the way to the vast multi-ethnic crowd who lined the streets of Watertown after the suspect was arrested, and cheered every one of the officers who passed, thanking them for a safe resolution that even brought in the suspect still alive.

This city is old, by American standards.  It has deep roots and a proud history and attitude, and tonight I think it certainly has that right.
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