Harvard Square, empty. (Source: The Crimson)
A lot has been made (most notably in two recent New Yorker articles) about how Boston shut itself down during the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I’m not here to say whether or not going into lockdown was completely right or wrong, but I think some pundits are showing an alarming lack of critical thought and rush to judgment in a misguided attempt to provide perspective.
I don’t want to ramble, so I’ll keep this short: John Cassidy and Adam Gopnik have both compared Boston’s reaction to the manhunt unfavorably to reactions to day-to-day life in Israel, or the reactions of Londoners after the dreadful 7/7 attacks. Bostonians cowered, they argue, while people in other places soldiered on in the face of worse attacks.
Except, Boston DIDN’T cower. On the days of the attacks, Boston came together in a way that was universally lauded. The “Boston Strong” tagline that’s taken off is a direct reflection of this communal togetherness. Cassidy and Gopnik have conviniently ignored this in favor of the narrative that the city was cowering in fear during the search for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But if the city wasn’t brought to its knees by the actual attack, then how do you explain it coming to a standstill during a manhunt?
Well, let me share a memory that’s long stuck with me. When I was a kid, my mom took me to visit Concord, which is about as New England as you can get. Concord was the home of Transcendentalism. It was where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired. You don’t get a deeper sense of the stuff Massachusetts is made of. And in one of the houses (either the Alcotts or Nathaniel Hawthorne, my memory is a bit hazy), there was a fire bucket with the family name inscribed. In the case of a fire, we were told, everyone in the town had to bring their bucket with them to help put it out. After the fire, a roll call was taken, and it was checked to make sure that everyone who could help did. If you didn’t show up with your bucket, you weren’t supposed to expect help the next time you needed it. Harsh, but that’s Yankee culture: do your part to help, no matter how small. It’s what’s expected.
Maybe in retrospect, locking down was an overreaction by the authorities, or an overreach by the government. That’s another debate for another time. But let’s avoid the silly narrative that Boston was brought to its knees this weekend. Please. What I saw on Friday wasn’t a city cowering in fear. It was a city of people deciding that if staying off the street for a day was what they could do to help, no matter how tiny the contribution, then so be it. You do your part to help, no matter how small. It’s what’s expected.