Never again can they say—not seriously anyway—that Boston isn’t welcoming to strangers.
It’s a longstanding truism, put amusingly at last year’s Golden Globes by host Tina Fey, who said of Ben Affleck, “Ben’s first two movies took place in Boston, but he moved this one to Iran because he wanted to film somewhere that was friendlier to outsiders.” But it’s one we can amend in the wake of the senseless violence near the Boston Marathon finish line Monday. In the aftermath of the bombings that killed three and injured hundreds more, a spreadsheet publicly hosted by Google went viral. There, almost 6,000 people (5,817 by our sketchy count) offered their homes to out-of-town runners with nowhere to stay. It wasn’t just the number of potential hosts that inspired, but the descriptions of each place, peppered with notes like “LGBT friendly,” “Chinese and Japanese speaker available,” and “Stay as long as you need to.” Boston’s streets might not invite easy navigation. We might have a typically New England kind of sangfroid. You might avoid wearing a Yankee hat at Fenway. But when it counts, people here care for the strangers in their midst.
Late Monday, Buzzfeed posted a list of “29 Reasons to Love Boston.” A cynic might have called it exploitative if it hadn’t had a specificity that rang true, and if it hadn’t made us laugh on a tough evening. We love Boston, Katie Notopoulos wrote, because of the way the golden State House dome lights up at sunset. And because the Old State House still stands, despite being almost comically dwarfed by the skyscrapers around it. These things are true, but they didn’t touch on the many reasons to love Boston that arose specifically out of yesterday’s horror. It’s a side-effect of tragedy that people are offered opportunity to prove their goodness. Yesterday alone, we found far more than 29 reasons to love Boston. That Google spreadsheet has about 5,817 of them.
Then there’s the Boston Marathon itself, a perfect example of the complex way Boston can be welcoming and challenging all at once. We might open our homes to runners, we might invite the world to join us on a holiday intended to celebrate our local history, but we didn’t exactly design our marathon to coddle anyone. “The course was chosen to humble you,” writes Nicholas Thompson in The New Yorker. That is, if you even qualify for it.
Consider why we run marathons. The race has no real purpose other than presenting someone with an insane obstacle and asking them to wake up early, to put in hundreds of miles, to push their bodies beyond what they’re supposed to handle, and to overcome it. That’s what usually makes the finish line so inspiring. “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon,” wrote Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run Boston, as Ezra Klein recalled Monday. Any marathon offers us an obstacle. The Boston Marathon offers an even more challenging one. Next year’s marathon is going to offer some of the most challenging mental obstacles of all. In The Atlantic on Monday, security expert Bruce Schneier urged people to resist feeling terrorized. “We don’t have to be scared, and we’re not powerless. We actually have all the power here, and there’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.”
No one needed to tell that to this city. Next year, the Boston Marathon’s physical obstacles will remain the same (or, if wind and weather cooperate less than they did Monday, even worse), and the mental obstacles will certainly loom larger than ever. Yet all over social media, people are vowing to run Boston next year. This city won’t be terrorized. There, too, you’ll find another reason to love Boston.
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