Saturday, April 20, 2013

Oh Boston, You're My Home

I was born in New York by two parents from New York who each had siblings and parents from New York.  Thus, I was born into a family that rooted for Yankees or Mets and Jets or Giants.  When my parents relocated with my brother and me to New Hampshire, it was too late for any New Englanders to convert me to their one true religion: rooting for their hometown teams.  For better (the Yankees) or worse (the Jets,) I cannot fathom ever rooting for the Sox or Pats.  It’s just not in my DNA.  For example, “Sweet Caroline” makes me want to vomit and I strongly dislike the Bosstones. So as a consequence of my Yankee/Jet connection, I’ve suffered tons of abuse (I told you I was a Jets fan already right?) from my friends in New England since grammar school.
After graduating from UVM in 1997, I moved back home to Hooksett for the summer to make some money and regroup.  Like most college graduates, I was clueless as to the next step.  Fortunately, a couple of my high school buddies approached me with their idea about moving to Boston together.  That summer, we found an apartment in Fenway.
At first, living in the Green Monster’s neighborhood felt a little bit like being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  In fact, I completed my first night out with the guys by sleeping in a Government Center jail cell.  Notwithstanding the rocky start, Boston began to grow on me after just a few weeks.
I celebrated my first Patriot’s Day as a Boston resident in 1998.  After experiencing the marathon as a spectator, I knew I had to experience it as a runner.  I ran as a bandit the following spring.  In 2002, I ran again but this time with a bona fide number. 
I finally graduated from law school one month after my last marathon.  That year, my first job as a lawyer was with the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecuter.  During that time, I worked with and befriended (or at least became acquainted with) a lot of state troopers and local police from Cambridge, Watertown, and Somerville among other towns.
In 2004, I took a job in private practice back in Boston where I’ve remained ever since.  Around the same time, I moved to South Boston and met Michelle. 
Michelle had lived in Southie since college besides living for a year in Watertown.  We got engaged in 2006 and bought our first home in Southie on the same day.  Greta was born in Boston two years later.  (Gus and Tilly were also born in Boston.)
When Michelle was pregnant with Gus, we relocated to Easton and began the adjustment to our suburban lifestyle.  In the ensuing three years, I think what I’ve come to miss most is simply the proximity to walk around in any of the city’s neighborhoods including but not limited to Boylston Street and Copley. 
But fortunately, I still work downtown.  And we go in occasionally as a couple or a family for various adventures.  My favorite Christmas present the last two years from Michelle was a “getaway” weekend where I stay solo in a Boston hotel to write and take breaks for inspiration a/k/a walk around the city or hop in a bar for a beverage.
On the day before this year’s marathon, Michelle and Greta were gone for the day.  I decided to take Gus and Tilly to Castle Island.  We stopped in Dorchester on the way out of town to visit my brother and his wife.  My buddy Phil heard we were in the neighborhood and invited us for a visit to his firehouse a few blocks away.  He offered to give us a special tour for the kids.  Unfortunately, the kids were too tired to make it work so we drove home.
Throughout that Sunday, I didn’t give much thought to the following day’s marathon. In all honesty, Patriot’s Day celebrations have been sporadic for me.  I can’t even remember the last time I actually went down to Boylston Street to watch the runners cross.  Part of the reason for the hiatus was definitely because of a “been there, done that” attitude, but also because I get just plain jealous whenever I watch any race that I’m not running.
On Monday around three o’clock, I was working in my office near South Station when I noticed the sounds of sirens and speeding cars.  A co-worker mentioned something about an explosion at the marathon.  Shortly thereafter, I noticed my cell phone wasn’t working right and next thing you know our office was evacuating. 
Once home, Michelle and I watched, listened, and read about all the horrors with reactions that probably mirrored exactly what you all experienced.  My first instinct was to check up on the status of any friends or acquaintances who may have been running or celebrating up there.  I also learned that Phil had been working directly across from the first explosion and thankfully, he was safe. 
Thoughts raced through my head as I waited for sleep that night.  Over the next few days, I struggled to comprehend the heinousness of the tragedy. 
On a primary level, I have been heartbroken for those who perished or were maimed by the bombings.  I am also devastated for the victims’ loved ones.  I can only imagine and hope never to experience the impact of such an atrocity on their lives. 
On a secondary level, I felt violated personally even though I do not personally know one person who suffered a casualty.  I realized my outrage was because the city where I’ve lived and worked and have come to love for the past 15 years, was attacked for no justifiable reason whatsoever.  It hurt even more because the Patriot's Day holiday celebrates exactly what is so wonderful about life and humanity. 
For whatever their reasons, the runners undertake a totally unnecessary challenge to their mind, body, and soul that requires months of commitment and training.  The spectators come to witness the runners’ confrontation with adversity and to encourage the athletes to succeed.  The symbiotic relationship between runner and spectator is almost a metaphor for life itself: we are either the one undertaking a burden to overcome or supporting those who need our help.
My head still swirled with contemplation.  Then Friday and the manhunt arrived.  I immediately thought of the police officers with whom I worked and met during my days at the DA’s office.  Without any verification, I know that many if not all of them were involved in what we witnessed.  Michelle and I rejoiced when the boat was discovered.
I admit this may sound kind of dumb.  But as a result of my sports teams’ allegiances, I’ve always felt a sort of disconnect between my identity and where I call home even though I’ve only really lived in New England my whole life.  After the events of this week, however, no such disconnect exists any longer.  I am now and will most likely forever be a Bostonian.  I write that admission with pride and satisfaction.  I just wish I realized it sooner.
We owe a debt of gratitude to all of the first responders for their bravery, as well as for the exceptional jobs that they performed this week.  That means people like you, Phil, in addition to the police officers who assisted with the successful operation in Watertown on Friday night.
We should tip our caps to the public officials who simultaneously coordinated the community’s safety  and the accompanying investigations.  Too often, we voice our complaints when they are acting as politicians but fail to recognize when they acted as true leaders.  Kudos to the governor on down.
Also, let’s not forget about all of the medical professionals who pitched in this week, particularly during the immediate aftermath of the bombings.  They likely saved scores of lives because of their expertise.
Last but not least, we owe a big high five to the Hub and her people.  Boston is a city full of characters and character.  This week reinforced that sentiment, no doubt. 
On a closing note, I’ve decided to make a go of the marathon one more time next year.  Any of you feel like beginning the training with me in cold and wet December?  No?  Oh, you must not be from Boston.

Phil is in the center of this image.  You can see him without a hat in his black firefighter's coat and a silver B on his back.  We're all so proud of you buddy.


Megan Teravainen said...

A beautiful and heartfelt reflection on this past week's terrible events. Thank you for giving well deserved attention to the many people who helped facilitate calm in the midst of chaos, especially Phil. I can certainly relate to the ways in which a traumatic event can instill fierce loyalty to a city... although I will always consider myself a New Yorker, this week's events made me remember my time as a Bostonian and most of all, as you put it, the character and characters. Well written, sir.

Scott said...

Great post. Nice work Phil. Nice work Boston.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Dennis. I’d say you confirmed my suspicion that next years marathon will be very tough to get into. I’m hoping they open it up to 40k or more runners like they did for the 100th. Are you planning to qualify or get a charity #? I’ll be at your alma mater Memorial day for the Burlington Marathon. We are staying in my homemade camper at the campground on the lake. My plan is to qualify there hopefully under 3 hours. I haven’t raced Boston since 2008. I love the race but hate the training!-Brett Rickenbach