What I Know About Boston That the Terrorists Never Will

What the terrorists will never understand.


This is supposed to be a political blog, but after what happened in Boston on Monday I don't have anything political to say. So here's what I've got.

I grew up in Boston. During the summers when I was in grade school and the Red Sox were in town, David Parker (not his real name) and I would walk to Fenway Park and try to get into the games. I don't remember how long it took to get there, an hour or two maybe – we were pretty small, and easily distracted. We would go up over Beacon Hill, down past the Common, through the Public Garden and straight down Commonwealth Avenue right into the heart of Kenmore Square.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Boston Marathon bombings.]

Sometimes, if the person manning the gate was in a good mood, you could get into the game, usually after the third inning. Sometimes you couldn't. But it didn't really matter because you could always go around the corner to one of the local eateries, have a hot dog or a slice of pizza, and play video games with the Sox game blaring in the background. At the end of the day, when you got back home, you'd be tired but exhilarated. And the next weekend you'd do it all over again.

That's the kind of city Boston is: small, compact, with one neighborhood blending into the next. On a bright summer day you can get just about anywhere. It makes you feel like you own the city, even if you're just a kid.

And David Parker was one of those quintessential city kids. He lived in an apartment building a few doors down from me. He had a severe learning disability. He was an awful athlete. And every day when he went to school he'd get teased and bullied. Kids would take his stuffed monkey away and pour soup on it. Push him down. Knock him over. But he'd always get back up. And he'd always show up the next day. Jesus, that kid was tough.

And David knew a few things. He knew how to break into the basement of the church we went to on Wednesday mornings for school. He knew where they kept the frozen Snickers bars, too, in an icebox in a backroom. That was pretty great. And he was game for anything. So we'd go on our weekend walks, and try to see the Red Sox play.

[PHOTOS: Deadly Explosions Hit Boston Marathon]

One summer David moved away. He went to a school that was better equipped to teach a kid like him. Sometime after that I moved away too, but not far. I went to college near Boston, and I used to run over to Heartbreak Hill, make it to the top and think "that isn't so tough." Of course, I hadn't run the 20 miles that marathoners run before it. But that's how the marathon is in Boston: It's a stitch that runs through town after town, a presence, more or less, 365 days a year.

I loved growing up in Boston. The smell of the city. The sound of it at night. The people crowding the sidewalks. Everything. As you grow older, you realize that not everyone has the same experience as you, of course. Growing up in Roxbury is different than growing up in Southie, the North End is different from Jamaica Plain. The city has had its share of real problems over the years, no doubt about that.

I didn't know Martin Richard. I didn't know Krystie Campbell. I didn't know the Boston University graduate student, who has yet to be named. I don't know anyone who was injured, or the families of those affected, whose lives have been plunged into a kind of blackness I can hardly imagine.

[Social Media Reacts to First Reports of Boston Explosions.]

But when I think about what happened on Monday, and what the cowards who set those bombs were doing, I'm reminded of those Saturday morning walks to Fenway in the summer sun. Because that's what they were attacking, really, that feeling of possibility and openness. Of life and adventure.

But here's the thing: Years after we had both left our childhood homes, David came barreling up to me on a bicycle, out of nowhere. And I couldn't believe it. He'd somehow gotten himself into college, had a girlfriend, had a life stretching out in front of him. The kid had made it, against impossible odds. It was amazing.

The terrorists who attacked Boston know something of the city I suppose, its roads and buildings, where to hide a bomb and how to run away. How to do terrible things. What they don't know are the David Parkers who live there. But I do. And he's one tough son of a bitch. Knock him down and he'll get right back up. Every time.

  • Read Peter Roff: A Father's Reflections After a Tragedy
  • Read Robert Schlesinger: Updating Eisenhower's 'Chance for Peace' Speech
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