I was just remarking to Lisa the other day that I’ve been in Boston nearly half of my life. Given how many times we moved growing up, Boston is the place I’ve lived longest, by far. Because of all that moving, I never really developed a sense of place, a sense of home. My home was where my family was, but since I left Kansas for college, my family has slowly broken away from there, too, so that we are scattered across the country: Kansas, Nevada, Colorado. The rest are in Iowa. South Dakota. Virginia. Florida. I have ties to all of these places, but none of them are home.
At 17, I decided to move to Boston. I’d enrolled at Boston University, sight unseen (there’s a story of how this happened, but it’s another post). I flew out for orientation after high school ended. Me and my friend Kim. Our first night in town, we walked away from the campus. She wanted to go to a store called Newbury Comics. We got a little lost. Not hugely lost, but a little. We spent some time at Nuggets. Stared into Deli Haus. Got a little intimidated by Mass Ave. Found Newbury Comics. Worked our way back, but took the wrong fork at Kenmore Square and walked toward Brookline, up Beacon. Figured out where Fenway Park is. It was fine. We were exploring.
We were, unbeknownst to me, crossing and recrossing the route of the Boston Marathon. We were walking streets that have since become as familiar as anything I’ll ever know. As a rootless guy, I didn’t have any idea I was setting down roots. Weak little roots, slightly scared little roots, but roots. Today, I have been in Boston nearly 17 years. All of my adult experience is as a quasi-Bostonian. I went to school here. I got my first job here. Got laid off from that job here. Fell in love. Gave directions. Volunteered (not enough). Made friends. Got lost. Got drunk. Watched marathons. Got into theater. Got into comedy. Got married. Got a house. Got kids. Found a life for myself. I’ve gotten an awful lot. All of it in Boston, from Boston.
Today, I see terrible photos of the intersection where I had my first job: Boylston and Exeter. My desk was at a window, looking across at the Lenox Hotel. I see terrible photos of the store I bought shoes at just over a month ago, shoes to train for a marathon. I see terrible photos of Copley Square, where I sat with my grandmother two days before my wedding. I see terrible photos of runners held back at the underpass on Commonwealth Avenue, just before their excited turn onto Hereford, the last turn before the finishing sprint down Boylston Street. I see terrible photos of a bar where I watched with a packed room as Pedro Martinez threw 17 strikeouts and gave up one hit. I see railings at restaurants I know, familiar street signs, the Copley T sign. And it’s all terrible, these photos of these places I know.
I’ve long said that you can’t become a Bostonian, that you can become a Californian, or a Texan, or a New Yorker, or almost anything else, but that you can’t become a Bostonian or a Frenchman. Today I’m not so sure. I don’t know what it’s like to really have a hometown, to feel that pride and that pull, but today, looking at those photos, I wonder if I’ve been wrong. Maybe you can become a Bostonian. I didn’t think I had a place, but I do. My place is Boston.
And today, I learned that one of the critically injured is a Boston University student. Just some kid who decided to come to school in Boston, standing on the street, excited to be a part of something absolutely good, absolutely positive, in a great city on a beautiful day. And that place, for that student, forever, is the place where the bomb went off. And it breaks my heart, because to me, that’s not what that place is. That’s the place where I bought my marathon shoes. Where I worked with three people who are friends to this day. Where I talked with my grandmother about her mother. Where I did the things you do in your hometown.
It’s also the place where thousands upon thousands of people have realized, on crossing the finish line, that they’re capable of something more than they ever thought, and a place where they can look back 26.2 miles and see an unceasing corridor of people supporting them. Boston has a reputation for coldness, but there’s no coldness on Marathon Day. There’s no coldness in Copley Square.
It’s a terrible thing that’s happened to that place, and I don’t want it to have a name like Ground Zero. It’s not that. It’s Copley Square, and it’s not a place defined by bomb blasts. It’s a place where people have amazing and mundane lives.
My heart and my support goes out to those who were hurt or love those who were hurt. I’ve gotten so much from Boston. I’d love to give something back. I think a lot of people will be looking for a way to do just that. Let’s look for that in the days to come.
Good night, friends.