‘Boston Strong’: A proud city shines through its pain
BOSTON — The unofficial new slogan of this bomb-scarred city was everywhere Saturday.
On highway signs along Interstate 90 and T-shirts in the storied Italian neighborhood of the North End. On placards held up by sticks in the Public Garden, and on race bibs worn by a pair of runners waiting for the T at the Haymarket stop.
At Fenway Park, where the Red Sox played for the first time since two homemade bombs tore through the finish-line crowd at the Boston Marathon. At the Bruins-Penguins hockey game, where even the Pittsburgh team’s goalie wore a Boston sticker on his helmet.
Yes, Saturday was all about “Boston Strong.” But less than 24 hours after the second bombing suspect had been captured and a region-wide lockdown was lifted, Saturday was also about Boston shaken, Boston saddened, Boston a little bit scared.
There were few better places to see the storied city struggle with its emotions than a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street. What began as a way to honor the three killed and the scores wounded in the Patriot’s Day attack ended up as something close to a celebration.
Trolleys rumbled by Saturday, with tourists inside snapping pictures of the stuffed animals and candles. Hundreds had crouched down in the overnight rain to pen love notes on the sponsorship signs that had lined the race route.
“Boston — you are my city forever.”
“This is our city. This is our race.”
“Suspect apprehended, yet still we mourn. NEVER FORGET. BOSTON STRONG.”
Jeff Lenahan strolled by the memorial en route to the Red Sox game, resplendent in a Boston jersey and ball cap. Although the 36-year-old registered nurse said he felt “more safe now than I think I ever have,” three of his friends decided to stay home instead of joining him for the game.
Motioning to the sprawling memorial, he said, “They didn’t come out, because of this.”
More than 35,000 others did show up at the historic stadium, where security was heightened for Boston’s largest post-bombing public gathering. Gov. Deval Patrick was there. And so was Neil Diamond, who flew east on his own dime to croon the team’s eighth-inning anthem, “Sweet Caroline.”
A commemoration before the game began with a montage of images set to Jeff Buckley’s somber rendition of “Hallelujah”: jubilant runners, tearful spectators, emergency workers. Three fans threw out the ceremonial first pitch — a victim, a first responder and a marathon runner.
The crowd was subdued — until slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz took the mic to explain why the team had ditched its usual at-home jerseys. And then some.
“This jersey that we wear today, it don’t say Red Sox. It say Boston. This is our [expletive] city!” he said, using the term you might expect. “No one is going to take away our freedom.”
For the first time Saturday, the crowd roared. The Federal Communications Commission, which has been known to hand out fines for such language, looked the other way.
“David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game,” tweeted agency Chairman Julius Genachowski. “I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston.”
The bombing and its aftermath also brought out a lyrical streak. At an interfaith prayer service Thursday, President Obama had invoked writer E.B. White and a poem called “Boston is Like No Other Place in the World Only More So.” Boston, the president quoted, “is the perfect state of grace.”
On Saturday, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, a Cambridge resident, was reminded of a very different poem. Early grief will subside, he said, but something crucial was lost.
“Nothing ordinary will be exactly as ordinary as before,” Pinsky said, explaining the point of Brazilian writer Carlos Drummond de Andrade in a poem titled “Souvenir of the Ancient World.” As De Andrade said in the poem’s last line, “They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!”
In a region whose history contains a wide streak of anti-government sentiment — the original tea party, anyone? — residents were moved by and grateful for the weeklong response of elected officials and law enforcement officers.
Pastor Bruce H. Wall wondered why the city did not employ the same resources to combat more routine violence as it did to chase the bombing suspects.
But he also was moved by the grit and caring of Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who’d had surgery two days before the bombing to repair a broken leg.
“Look at the mayor of the city checking himself out of the hospital to be there” for the city, Wall said. “That’s how the elected officials responded, and how we came together to solve this.”
Although they were happy to be out seeking a little normalcy, few in the Boston area questioned the lockdown that kept them homebound during the massive hunt for the bombers.
In Watertown, where one suspect was killed and the other captured, residents poured into police headquarters Saturday, dropping off flowers and food, including plates of cupcakes.
Before Milton Police Sgt. Jack Richman, 56, headed to the Boston Common for duty, he stopped at Mul’s Diner in South Boston with some law enforcement buddies. An anonymous fan paid their breakfast tab.
“It’s overwhelming, the response from the people,” Richman said, as a little boy passed a cluster of officers and waved.
His own emotions, however, were mixed. Joy, yes. But sorrow for the lives lost, including a fellow police officer, Sean Collier of the MIT force.
“It’s like you just won the Super Bowl,” he said. “But you still have to think about the casualties.”
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