Saturday, April 20, 2013

We Are Boylston

Before moving to Vermont, I lived in the Boston area for ten years. For five of those years, I worked in Copley Square in Back Bay.  It was a great location to work. Lunch breaks were spent walking to the Public Garden or doing a loop through the brown stones of the South End.  On Thursdays, during the summer, members of the Boston Symphony would give a concert (in quartets etc.) in the Square in front of Trinity Church.  After work, I could walk to Fenway to watch a game. Every New Year's Eve, while I lived in Boston, was spent in Back Bay for Boston's First Night celebration (Boston founded this event).  At First Night I was exposed to some of my favorite musicians like  Vance Gilbert and Jim Infantino.  I also saw Reeves Gabrels (guitarist for David Bowie) jam him guitar with a vibrator in one of Copley Square's specular churches. First Night is also where my wife and I had our first kiss. So yes, I do have some emotional connections to this place.

The best day of the year in Boston is Patriots' Day.  The Red Sox have an 11am game always at home in Fenway.  Provided that they don't go into extra innings you could leave the game at the end to catch the Kenyans cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon or at least some of the better runners... if you are tall enough to see over the crowd. Everyone is in a good mood which is rare in this city. An air of good feeling and generosity is in the air. If I didn't have the day off, I could watch the crowd at the Marathon from my office window. I could see the tops of the heads of the runners bopping over the crowd as they headed down Boylston Street approaching the finish line.  At lunch a group of us would head down into the crowd to join the excitement.

In the recent years, we (Americans) have witnessed some horrific events on our shores, like 911, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Newtown shootings (to name only a few). None have affected me like the bombings in Boston earlier this week. The mix of emotions that filled me while watching the event unfold, through my tears, ranged from rage, sadness, fear and paranoia. I felt paralyzed by the event for quite some time not able to work. As the ashes settle, as we mourn our dead, tend to our wounded and acknowledge our many heroes, you have to wonder the long term affect of this event.

For many people of the world their only exposure to Boylston Street will be the images of a bomb going off and the carnage thereafter. For me, Boyslton will be always be a street of excitement and commerce, of bustling crowds, lost tourists and bad drivers. It will always be the home of the Boston Public Library, the first library in America to allow private citizens to borrow books for free.
It is home of the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) and Hines Convention Center.  Boylston not only has great bars like the Pour House, McGreevy's and Whiskey's but it has probably the happiest Dunkin' Donuts in the New England (at least it was when I frequented the place).

Boylston is a common name in Massachusetts.  Many towns have a Boylston Street, there is a town and a hall at Harvard called Boylston. When I lived in Boston, a friend once told me that Boylston was the name of a doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, who helped immunize the city of smallpox in 1721 which isn't entirely true. Dr. Boylston indeed immunized 247 people with a revolutionary technique he learned in abroad.  Of these patients, six died, three of whom were his oldest patients. Boylston was great uncle of President John Adams and philanthropist, Ward Nicolas Boylston.  Adams' mother was a Boylston.  It is Ward Nicoloas that the street, town and hall are named after.

Perhaps the legacy of the Boylston Street/Boston Marathon bombings will be a positive one. In addition to all the death and calamity, we saw great heroism. In the videos of the event you see just as many people running into the mess as you see running away. You saw crowds of people huddled around each other helping, pitching-in however they could.  You hear stories of runners who after finished the marathon and ran a few more miles to donate blood. I heard of someone creating a spreadsheet on their smartphone of names and address of local who opened their homes to displaced individuals. Let the name Boylston be known for what for what it originally was known for on this continent, for philanthropy and generosity of spirit. We humans, we Americans, we New Englanders and Bostonians are not those two young scumbags that caused the calamity.  They are one-off's, oddities, strangers. We are much better than that.  We are Boylston!

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