Boston, You’re My Home

“For Boston, for Boston, we sing our proud refrain
for Boston, for Boston, ’tis wisdom’s earthly fane (meaning a temple or a shrine)
for here are all one, and our hearts are true
and the towers on the heights reach the heavens own blue.
For Boston, for Boston ’til the echoes ring again!

For Boston, for Boston thy glory is our own
for Boston, for Boston, ’tis here that truth is known
and ever with a right shall our heirs be found
’til time shall be no more and thy work is crowned
for Boston, for Boston thy glory is our own!
– The Dropkick Murphys, For Boston

I’m not usually one for tradition (I’ve mainly sought to break with it since I first got to high school), but I think this past week calls for something a little old-fashioned. To me, the Dropkick Murphys screams Boston – it was one of the first shows I ever went to in high school. No matter where I go, Boston will ALWAYS be my home. This does not mean I will eventually settle down there when I get back from India – I may never live there again for any significant period of time. But ask many people who have once lived or studied in Boston – they’ll tell you that Boston gets under your skin and doesn’t leave. The good (the wicked pissah North Shore accents, the killer clam chowder (thick and thin), Sam Adams Brewery), the bad (the clogged Green Line, the Charles River water which used to give you tetanus), and the ugly (rush hour traffic on 95 and 90, drivers getting out of their cars to yell at each other and pick fights over a fender bender or a loud horn honk) are with you for life. So when Boston’s in trouble, we come running, physically and in spirit, from all corners of the globe.

20th April, 12:45am IST (Indian Standard Time)

I’m writing this as my family and friends dig in for what will hopefully be a short-lived lock-down as a manhunt is underway in Boston for the suspects in the Boston marathon bombings. My mom, dad, cousin and sister are out of the official lockdown zone in Lexington and Arlington – several friends and significant others of family are in official lock-down in Cambridge and the surrounding area. As of right now, they are still going door-to-door in Watertown and there is no one on the streets of Boston. It’s very strange to be so physically distant from this when I am so emotionally involved. I was the first person to tell my family there even was a lock down – they’re not the type to check the news when they wake up, and mostly I’m glad we’re not that type of family that’s always wondering what’s going on outside our lives. I can’t sleep, even thought I have to get up early to catch a bus to teach English class tomorrow. It’s hard to think and plan for something that mundane right now. For the first time since leaving home for India, I wish I could snap my fingers and be home in Lexington with my family, just until the lock down is over. I’m writing this more as therapy for myself than anything else, especially given the fact that there are very few people to talk to here about the attack on my hometown.

I feel unsettled knowing that my route to my high school, BB&N in Cambridge, was the scene of a high speed chase to catch Dhzokhar Tsarnaev. The square where the late-night shootout took place is a place I drove and walked through every day without thinking it was anyplace of significance. In the photos of police-ridden Boston, I recognize the T stop where my dad used to exit to go to work guarded by a SWAT team member, the endless loop I used to drive around South Station waiting to pick my friends up from the bus and train, swarming with police with not a civilian in site, and a SWAT team helicopter hovering behind an empty Watertown Mall that I used to hang out at after school and near the DMV where I got my driver’s license. I find it amazing that simply at the urgency of the Boston Police and Mayor Menino, everyone is staying inside today. No one is being forced to, but so many are complying. Is this a good sign? Does this mean we trust our local government and local law enforcement?

On a more positive note, there has been an amazing outpouring of support and community reliance that started the second the bomb went off. Among my favorite stories, runners in the marathon who were not injured kept running to hospitals to donate blood, random stranger dragged other random strangers to safety, and citizens opened their homes to those without shelter, food or water. People credit Bostonians with these acts of kindness and with the resilience shown on the face of the bombings, but the truth is that so many people at the marathon were from outside Boston and outside the country. Perhaps Boston the place brings people together in this way (I would like to think that there’s something magical about my city that uniquely brings people together in this way) but I think what happened in Boston was a product of humanity, and an indication of what people do every day for others here and across the world. The news doesn’t capture everyday acts of kindness – we don’t hear about the nice, mundane things in life because those stories don’t sell newspapers, etc. – but the people who rushed others to safety, like this guy, most likely weren’t looking to be made into heroes. They were probably acting with the same mindset that they have any day of their lives. They probably weren’t weighing their own safety against the lives of the injured when they rushed to the sides of the injured and made tourniquets out of their belts to attempt to save their limbs and prevent loss of blood. I would wager that, given what happened in Boston, the first instinct of most is to help us all survive. Other indicators of overwhelming community building around the bombings include the story of thousands showing up to block the potential Westboro Baptist Church protest (which I don’t believe happened), and this article about how so many people across the nation and world have spent time at one or more of Boston’s universities, making the support for Boston international in nature.

Speculations about the suspect’s life anger me – I refuse to read articles detailing where he lived before he immigrated to the States, about his religion, or what this will mean for immigration reform for the States. Until we attempt to give this person a chance to tell their story, they are still only a suspect. I’m not sure he will ultimately have an opportunity to tell his story – he may end up killing himself or give the police no choice but to take him out – but I hope he lives to be able to explain himself.

It’s also strange being so far away because no one here, even the people I care about and who care about me, knows what is going on in Boston, and even if they did know, they probably wouldn’t care, because it’s a city that’s thousands of miles away from them that doesn’t concern their daily lives. I was so in need of someone to talk to about what was going on here that, in one of my English classes, I created a “check-in” session where we talk about how we’re feeling that day before class starts. All of my students, perhaps misunderstanding the point, launched into how much they loved English class (which made me feel great, but wasn’t what I was getting at). When my turn came, I told them about the events in Boston, and that I was from there. The words felt so wrong coming out of my mouth – I had to explain what was going on in very simplistic terms – and I almost felt guilty spilling my guts when I was supposed to be teaching. I felt wrong complaining about a bombing in my privileged, largely safe-from-terrorism city when every day there are border skirmishes with Kashmir and where Delhi is under near constant threat from some form of terrorism. There is no reason that my friends and coworkers here should care about the events that happened in Boston, partly because India has its own problems right now, and partly because it takes place in a city that, despite its proximity to New York (which almost everyone knows, as well as California) most people I talk to here have never heard of. Similarly, when I read headlines such as “[x number] people killed, [y number] maimed/injured/in critical condition in [z location]”, I glance over the headline, feel sad for a few seconds and contemplate what a tragedy and human error violence is in general, and then move on with my life to drink my coffee (or in my current case, some overly sweetened chai). I don’t pay much attention to these things because they happen so often somewhere in the world. To the rest of the world, should Boston be just another “lozation z”?  This article explains a little about what makes American bombings stand out. This article, and the reactions around the world to the bombings in Boston, help to remind us that our safety is such a privilege, and that our expectations of safety, when compared to the rest of the world, are very high. We don’t live in that kind of world anymore though, and we must accept this fact without living in fear of what is to come.

The top photo’s message can be read in a lot of ways, but I read it as both a sincere offering of sympathy and a reminder that Syrians are constantly under attack for the way they live and Boston should realize that what happened in Boston is a drop in the bucket of violence by bombing that Syria and the rest of the world experience. Hopefully Boston will never have to experience the hardships currently experienced by the citizens of Syria, but we should all keep in mind the larger context of where our experienced violence is situated in that of the rest of the world.

21st April, 3:15pm IST

The suspect in the bombings was caught the evening of the 19th of April and is in serious but stable condition at Beth Israel Hospital. Like everyone in Boston and around the world who has been following this, I am so thankful to the Boston Police, the MIT Police Force, the SWAT teams, the Watertown Police, and all other law enforcement officials and first responders who contributed to catching Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I hope he survives and gets the best medical care so he can see exactly the kind of dedication and kindness that went towards saving the lives of so many victims of the bombings, and I sincerely hope he receives a fair trial and sees the best aspects of the justice system. I hope we can all learn from this experience and hope that we are aware now that while Boston is not immune to terrorism. We must remember the victims who lost their lives and their limbs in this tragedy (I can’t even imagine what it must be like for a marathon runner to lose their legs).

We must not live our lives in fear, especially given the very low incidence of terrorist acts in the US. Instead, we should shift our gaze from a random act of violence we cannot anticipate to one that we have the ability to save ourselves from. Our country has massively failed to reasonably protect our citizens by killing a bill in the Senate that would have expanded background checks. We may be able to stop terrorism in its tracks in less than a week, and thwart many other attacks, but apparently our senators are incapable of doing what their citizens have been asking them to do since the Sandy Hook shootings, the shooting in the Colorado movie theater, and the Sikh gurudwara massacre, to name a few – make it harder for people who will most likely misuse guns to acquire them. A very vocal minority of gun owners is currently running congress on this issue, and had 42 of the 45 dissenting Senators in their pockets. If my city can look fear in the face and lock it down, can our nation pass some sensible laws to prevent further bloodshed? After this week’s vote, that remains to be seen.

by John Cole, original source http://blogs.thetimes-tribune.com/johncole/

This article tracks the public shaming on twitter of Nate Bell, an Arkansas senator who quite insensitively commented on the Boston bombings: “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” Most of the comments are both indicative of Boston pride in the wake of the bombings and the way people are feelings after the vote to leave background checks, or lack thereof, as they are. In America, we might not have as much direct corruption as other countries, but that doesn’t mean that the actions of our government can’t be classified as corrupt. Given that I am currently assisting on a research project that seeks to evaluate how accessible the lower judiciary is for litigants seeking justice for their economic and social rights, I’m finding that, like everything in India, corruption sullies the judicial process and particularly inhibits the ability of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, the poor and illiterate, and women to access the judiciary if they don’t have either connections or money. How is bending to the will and succumbing to the threats of the NRA and selling them your vote in the US any different than taking a bribe to halt a case’s progress in India?

24th April, 7:55pm IST

Similarly, there have been discussions of why Mr. Tsarnaev could be charged as an enemy combatant and taken into military custody when comparing his case to the Oklahoma bombing and the Aurora Colorado shooting (turns out he will be tried by a civilian court). Some have pointed to the fact that Tsarnaev’s being Muslim is the cause. Others evaluate how the media is demonizing the entire Chechen ethnicity based on the actions of the two brothers which reminds us just how nuanced racism can be. Others have pointed out how ridiculously and dangerously wrong it was to charge Tsarnaev with “unlawfully using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction … against persons and property.” We make a huge deal out of bombings and “other” those who are responsible in any way we can (whether we label them as mentally ill or fanatic, etc.), but somehow consider gun violence as less serious (I strongly disagree with this author’s view of Boston as cowering, etc. and I believe the lock down was the right thing to do but otherwise think the article has merit) or a somehow necessary by-product of our right to bear arms. This hypocrisy must be dealt with in a society that claims to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. I will always love my country (indeed, being far from it makes me incredibly patriotic), which is why I will always point out its seemingly endless flaws. I sincerely hope we can learn from this tragedy, but I have so much trouble reconciling my feelings about the amazing response from the Boston etc. citizenry with the way the media has portrayed the entire thing and the sell out of Congress to the NRA, etc. I am grateful for the perspective that being in India has given me, however, and know that despite my desire to be home with my family this past week that this is where I’m supposed to be.

2 thoughts on “Boston, You’re My Home

  1. I know this is very, very late, but I only just read this post and had to congratulate you on the sensitivity, reflectivity, and intelligence with which you wrote this piece. I can only imagine how it felt to be so far away from your hometown when it was in a time of crisis, and imagining the scene of you with your students in English class, trying to find empathy and support from them, was so touching. Even though several months have passed, and the Boston bombing headlines have been replaced with other terrible acts of violence around the globe, I can only hope that the everyday acts of kindness by beautiful people such as yourself are steadily taking us towards a peaceful world.

    • Lisette, thanks so much for your touching comment – it really meant a lot to me. I’m actually in the middle of writing a post about 9/11 and forgetting and remembering. I also need to keep in mind that I have a whole community of Shansi Fellows out there to reach out to in times like this :) Miss you! Let’s meet up in the winter somehow!

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