The Boston Lesson: We’re Vulnerable, Always
If the trauma has subsided, the fear still simmers. A horrific image is frozen for all of us: Two ballcap-wearing extremists, brothers in terror, standing on Boylston Street and blowing up the Boston Marathon. I do not worry about a resilient, parochial city that will move on and watch 36,000 runners — about 10,000 more than last April — compete Monday in the 118th edition of an American heirloom. We saw Boston Strong in 2013, with vital contributions from the local baseball club. Now, bear witness to Boston Recovery.
“We are Boston. We are America. We respond. We endure. We overcome. America will never, ever, ever stand down. We own the finish line,” said Vice President Joe Biden, speaking for a nation at ceremonies on the anniversary of the bombings.
Or, as put more eloquently by the Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church: “There is a rising. There is no way to walk to Boylston Street without being reminded of the evil spilling of precious blood, the hateful strike on a world treasure. But we are also reminded of the amazing capacity of the human spirit to rise in heroism, compassion and sacrifice. An ascension of the human spirit, left to its own devices, its divine design, it will rise, despite anything, despite everything.”
Yet I do worry about humankind. This act jolted us when our guard was down, when exhausted athletes were gathering with their loved ones at the finish line, when we least expected an attack. It reminded us that we’re as vulnerable as we were 13 years ago in Manhattan — anywhere, everywhere, anything, everything — and that major gatherings remain the most likely place for a coward to find his attention and infamy.
Such a reminder, stunningly, came hours after the ceremonies. Police found two unattended backpacks at the finish line and announced that a male suspect was in custody, evacuating Boylston Street in the process. Who would bring a backpack to the finish line after the Tsarnaev brothers — one dead, the other now in solitary confinement — were wearing backpacks with pressure cooker bombs on April 15 of last year? Who would do it on a solemn day in a suffering city?
“Boston Strong,’’ a barefoot, dancing man was yelling as he carried a backpack into the area, according to WBZ TV, while police were investigating a pair of shoes left in a bag near Copley Square.
Turns out the confiscated backpack contained a rice cooker. The suspect was charged with posesssion of a hoax device.
All faith is fading. All trust is gone.
Sports has been in lockdown mode since 9/11. The Super Bowl, a prime target, has been safe. Security issues have been kept at a minimum. But in the last week, we’ve seen a rash of incidents in Major League Baseball that should put the commissioner’s office on guard. Accessibility to social media has given semi-lives to people with no lives, allowing them to spew hatred about athletes on the Internet. Once inside stadiums and arena, they feel emboldened by this new “power’’ and think they can say or do as they please.
The players are striking back. After two fans ran on the field at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles’ Adam Jones said they should be tasered and that he’d like to kick them with his spikes. In Anaheim, Curtis Granderson lashed at a fan who had reached out at touched his back as he was throwing the ball back to the infield.
“Say whatever you want to say. Boo, cheer, clap, cheer for your team, cheer for the other team. But just don’t physically touch the players,’’ said Granderson, now with the Mets. “You never know what’s going to go on. The thing that was asked to me by the (Angels) team security was, `Are you OK? Did anything happen?’ I was like, `Yeah, everything’s fine.’ But just the fact that I got touched during the act of the game while things were going on is obviously something to always be concerned about.”
Then there was Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins, who responded to a heckler in the Phillies’ own ballpark with a walk-off home run, followed by a foul-mouthed message to the fan. “I politely told him to shut the (abbreviated expletive) up,” Rollins said. “I was locked and had some aggression. It just worked out I was able to tell him.” Matt Adams of the Cardinals had to deal with a worked-up fan who wanted a confrontation, all because Adams had lunged into the stands for a foul ball.
These are not terrorists on Boylston Street, I realize. But at some point, they could be. I’ll never forget the night in Chicago when a father-and-son tag team decided to leap out of the stands and tackle Tom Gamboa, first-base coach of the Royals. A knife fell from the pocket of the father during their romp at U.S. Cellular Field. Gamboa hasn’t been the same since.
I am pleased that Boston, backbone firm, has rallied. “This day will always be hard, but this place will always be strong,” said the former mayor, Thomas Menino.
But three are dead. And several of the more than 260 others injured in the attack are disabled. We are not going to forget.
We just learn and march on.