I’ve been walking into walls the past few days, trying to make myself believe that Boston was a target of terrorism — is a target of terrorism. I had to watch that video 20 times for it to sink in: The plume of white smoke, the screams, the second explosion, the heroic rush to rescue.
Two days later, Commonwealth Avenue in Newton was swept clean of paper cups and orange peels. The trees are budding. The beauty of this spring feels like an affront to the dead, the wounded, the mourners, and all the rest of us who find ourselves walking into walls as we put one foot in front of the other.
On Wednesday night, I took my “little” girl to the Big Apple Circus. Emilia is 27-years-old and has two inches on me but this was our family tradition throughout her childhood and it was planned as a celebration of her move back to Boston after five years in the diaspora. I bought the tickets in February.
On her way downtown on the T, she was reminded at every stop to be vigilant. Passing Massachusetts General Hospital, my husband and I thought about lost limbs and broken hearts.
We were reassured by the K-9 patrol and state troopers posted outside the big top. We were happy to be part of a big crowd of families and children, gasping and giggling at the performance, terror-free for a couple of hours. After the show, we passed a local camera crew interviewing a dad who said something about how we can’t stop living and that’s what we were doing at the circus.
Not that we’re going to forget. There will be vigils and prayer services and moments of silence; plaques and bronze statues in memorium; charities and foundations funded to help and heal. All good. But it’s all still raw.
Before the circus, we took a walk around Boston Common. I wanted to see the gazebo and one of the temporary, do-it-yourself, shrines that now dot our city. Made of candle wax, roses, notes and posters, they serve as temporary memorials to the dead. And though God’s name is invoked, along with quotes from sermons and scripture, these offerings are more civic than religious.
Pop-up memorials owe their meaning and their random beauty to the efforts of a community of neighbors — and strangers. They express the emotional connection and commitment that comes with being a citizen — of Boston, the USA, the human race. They affirm the consolation of solidarity. All are welcome.
We are much too familiar with these heart-breaking shrines. Oklahoma City, 9/11, Tucson, Sandy Hook; I hate seeing Boston added to the list. I hate the list.
But it can’t end with hate. I add a few words to the local colloquy about who we are, I sign up to give blood, and I promise not to surrender to the lie that we are helpless to stop this madness.
This post also appears on WBUR’s Cognoscenti