When Terror Hits Home

FBI agents comb the streets of Cambridge, Mass., where the writer lives. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
FBI agents comb the streets of Cambridge, Mass., where the writer lives. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Boston is a diverse, complicated and rugged city. As a transplant to Boston from Los Angeles, I will say honestly that one does not easily or quickly warm to this city and its ways. Boston makes you want and earn membership. Los Angeles will always be home for me with everything that means. But you know what? I am now a Bostonian, and I love this city. 


Some types of violations you do not quickly forget. This has been a hard week, given the horror of the Marathon bombing and the terror of the manhunt in its wake. The injury of these events is not just to your pride or to a sense of safety. This injury is a challenge to self-understanding, to one's most basic fix on what is real and good and true. That's what this feels like to me right now.

The video of the Marathon bombing is shocking to me, no matter how many times I see it. It has this effect not simply because innocent people lost their lives; it has this effect not simply because so many innocent people are wrestling with grievous injuries; and it does not have this effect simply because it is the most recent tragic example of terror coming home to America. The sense of shock, pain and horror endures because Boston is where I live and is a city that I love; it has this effect because I know and see myself as part of the places, events and people that the Marathon bombers set out to destroy.

It is impossible to count the number of times I have strolled up and down Bolyston Street like countless other Bostonians. I've dined at the restaurant and bar at the Lenox Hotel right at the finish line. I've often sat reading the newspaper or a novel while sipping a hot, grande, dark-roast coffee in the large Starbucks on Bolyston. I've smoked too many cigars at the Cigar Masters lounge, just steps from where 78-year-old Bill Iffrig fell in response to the bomb blast, and like so many tens of thousands of others, I've dined at many of the other restaurants and frequented many of the other shops along the stretch of Bolyston bounded by the two blasts. I was not there that Patriots Day afternoon on April 15 when the bombs went off, but I felt the blasts and feel them still, as did all Bostonians.

I was in Philadelphia when my cellphone began ringing frantically Friday morning. My wife, my nieces, friends and family were calling to find out if I was safe. I turned on the news to hear that Cambridge (where I now live), Watertown and indeed all of Boston were on lockdown. Rushing to dress in my hotel room, I heard one reporter on TV say that an injured police officer had been taken to Mount Auburn Hospital. I live across the street from Mount Auburn Hospital.

I saw another TV news reporter standing in front of Arsenal Mall in Watertown. I am a member of a gym not two blocks from there; during spring and summer I am at the Home Depot next door to Arsenal Mall on what seems like an almost daily basis, and my wife shops at the Target across the street from it virtually every weekend.   

I know these places and the people who frequent, work in and live around them. I am one of them. This event is not just news. It is real. It is deeply personal.


I made my way home by 1:00 p.m. and watched news of the manhunt, but not just as another horrified observer. The nearby and personal feel of these events grew even closer. Driving to Cambridge from Logan Airport, there were virtually no cars and no foot traffic on the Cambridge streets on a warm, 70-degree spring day. It was as surreal, disconcerting and sinking an experience in a city bounded by Harvard University at one end and MIT at the other as you can imagine.

As I watched the news coverage, I saw film of the bombers' house on Norfolk Street and realized I had parked on that street the previous weekend before going to dinner around the corner at a new popular restaurant. How can it be that this street, proximate to one of the liveliest entertaining and nightlife sections of Cambridge, could have been the locus of such malice and murderous rage?


But all along I knew two things with certainty, and I knew this because I know Boston. First, there would be utter steel resolve, no stop whatsoever, and wall-to-wall support from the citizens of Boston and surrounding cities and towns, for law enforcement in the pursuit of those who had attacked the Marathon — one of the crown jewels of the metro area and its indomitable spirit. Anybody who knows Boston knew this. You just knew it. Second, no small act of cowardice can bring down a city defined by the sort of history, striving, challenge, resilience, passion, loyalty and depth of character that is Boston.

The light and vitality of a city that brought you the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's Ride, the Old North Church, Crispus Attucks, the Black Freedom Trail, Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment, John F. Kennedy's B.A., Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ph.D., and Mitt Romney's, John Roberts' and Barack Obama's J.D.s, Massachusetts General Hospital, the MIT media lab and a list of literary giants that few places in the world can rival cannot be diminished by a gutless act of terror. If these two alleged terrorists had not been purposeless idiots, they would have known as much and not embarked on such a futile and evil mission.


Boston is an identity, Boston has a core and traditions, Boston has a real personality and culture and a beating heart. It is a City in Full. Go to a Red Sox, or Celtics, or Bruins or Patriots game out in Foxborough, and you'll know it. Hang out on the Esplanade on the Fourth of July, and you'll know it. Witness a graduation in Harvard Yard, and you'll know it. Or even just take a Duck Boat Tour, and you'll know it. Yes, Boston also has its full measure of failings and shortcomings, which need no recitation here. In moments like these, it's the strengths that shine through. The old adage holds that there are three things to do in Boston: sports, politics and revenge. You had better believe it. And then some.

Boston took a hit. Boston is hurting. I feel this, too, as does anyone who loves this town. The greatness of Boston — its history, its institutions, its culture, its people — endures and will shine more brightly than ever in the days ahead. That's how we roll.


Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.