BOSTON — Natives of this city seem to have two basic messages for what President Obama called the “small, stunted individuals” responsible for Monday’s bombing.
First, all that stuff about how ahistorical we Americans are? It just doesn’t apply in a city where you grow up walking the Freedom Trail — where our country’s beginnings are a source of pride, identity, and jobs. And where it’s natural to relate events to a past that doesn’t seem so distant: “As you can see, Bostonians aren’t afraid,” said 32-time Boston Marathon runner Sandy Xenos, a recently retired teacher who’s happy to mention she was born right at St. Elizabeth’s in Brighton. “C’mon, the Tea Party was here; this is where it all started.”
The second message is intimately related to the first: We haven’t forgotten anything that ever happened to us. Not ‘the shot heard round the world.’ Not the kid who was a jerk in second grade. And oh most certainly not somebody who blows up a bunch of innocents on one of our favorite days at an event that in our own eyes defines us.
Here’s septuagenarian Cynthia Chace-MacNeil, who stayed in line outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross even after all the tickets for Thursday’s interfaith service had been handed out, on her town’s connection to its annual marathon on Patriot’s Day: “It’s spiritual, it’s patriotic, it’s Lexington and Concord and a celebration of the beginnings of our country,” she said, leaning on her walking cane. “It’s Boston, and it’s in our blood.”
Blood, did somebody say? Hard to say if I’ve heard Paul Revere or accused crime boss Whitey Bulger cited more often since the attacks on Monday. “We only care about three things in this town,” the Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen told NPR’s Melissa Block. “Sports, politics and revenge.”
In a local blog called Good Morning Gloucester, Jim Dowd wrote that the terrorists must not be from around here or else they’d have known better. “This town,” he informs the bad guys, “has the unique condition of having a ridiculously huge number of completely off-the-wall genius techno-wizards co-existing right alongside some of the most psychotic angry, violent &%$s on the planet…
This place will kick the screaming *&^% out of you, come up with a cure for having the screaming &^%$ kicked out of you, give it to you for free, then win a Nobel prize for it and then use the medallion to break your knuckles…And worse yet for you, Boston is provincial in a way that makes Sicily look like Epcot…Over the past three centuries we’ve taken on Imperial England, slavery and Krispy Kreme. Note that given time, Boston wins every time.”
He’s kidding on the square, I know, but seeing the news of that sweet little 8-year-old killed by these cowards had even an almost-pacifist like me sitting in the comfort and safety of my Cambridge apartment mentally asking the terrorists, “You want a piece of me?”
At the “Healing Our City” interfaith service inside the cathedral, the Rev. Liz Walker, of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, put Boston’s endless memory in a less violent light: “Nothing taken from us will be forgotten, or lost in vain.”
The city’s beloved, longtime mayor, Tom Menino, did not need to talk tough. The sight of him in obvious pain after leg surgery — he checked himself out of the hospital after the blast — and struggling to rise from his wheelchair and stand at the podium said that he is that.
But the president, too, suggested that the terrorists had made a serious miscalculation: “If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from…the values that make us who we are as Americans, well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city.”
He spoke not of revenge, of course, but of justice: “We will find you. We will hold you accountable. But more than that, our fidelity to our way of life, for a free and open society, will only grow stronger.”
In one of the most powerful moments of the service, Gov. Deval Patrick asked Bostonians not to “lose touch with our civic faith,” as a result of the attack. Remember, he said, “Massachusetts invented America,” and the crowd gave itself the wild applause it needed and deserved.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer. She anchors She the People and is spending this semester as a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.