When my brother Paul left for boot camp he asked for letters. He warned against drawings, photos or gifts – anything that might make him stand out. He’d heard horror stories about guys who received cookies from their families and were forced to eat all of them at once while the rest of the men did push-ups. I’m not sure if his worries are justified, but we were warned no extras, just news – news of home, news of family. “I’m not sure how much we’ll know about what’s going on in the rest of the world,” he said.
Again, I don’t know if they’ll share with my brother and the other men at boot camp news of the Boston Marathon and the tragedy that occurred there or if they do how it will be presented. I know it won’t be the same as if he heard it here at home.
Boston holds a special place in the heart of our family. My parents, who attended Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy for a time, were engaged on Washington Street. Paul, too spent some time at ENC and to my brother John and I, Boston was the Emerald City – our destination spot. When we crossed the bridge over the Charles and saw the city looming, we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore or more accurately our rural town of Bethel, Vt.
We went to Boston for concerts and Star Trek conventions, to hear the likes of Prince, U2 and Sting. We went to visit the boy I loved and to tour Newbury Comics and Tower Records for vinyl and to search for specific songs we had heard on TV shows or on the radio as we entered the city. This was in the days before I-tunes and the Internet so finding a song you sought was like embarking on a scavenger hunt. You poured through bins of records in seedy used record stores tucked in basements or back alleys, searching based on a remembered lyric or a phrase that sounded like so and so, and when you scored the coveted item, when you took it home, put it on your record player, heard the first notes and realized you’d hit pay dirt, oh, the feeling was sweet. Then again, everything was. We were young.
Boston was exciting, but safe. For teens that had never ventured far beyond their one-street town, it held promise and possibility and the assurance that you could head out in the world and find your way. I learned to ride the T and where to get on and off for all our favorite haunts. I sometimes still hear the static-y announcement “Ahrlington” cried in its distinct Boston drawl in my dreams.
We would hit Boston in the morning and stay until late at night, speeding home, windows down in my brother’s mustang. We blasted cassettes of our favorite songs, creating our own soundtrack. We were cool, we were young, we were part of a world larger than ourselves. We might live in Bethel, but Boston held our hearts and it stands frozen in my memory, a time capsule of all that’s right.
These are things my brother Paul understands although he was still too young when we were making these journeys to come along, but he has his own tales of the city to tell. The last time we were there together with his wife Leah, he took us on a tour of some of his college hangouts, ending in a field in the darkness. Leah and I joked as he parked the car that he was taking us out to the woods to kill us, but somehow as we walked the narrow path together we felt safe. The bright lights in the distance looked out over us, keeping a watchful eye. We called home to let my Mom, who was watching their kids, know we would be late, and we stopped for pizza at a greasy Italian sub shop. Paul and I volleyed tidbits of conversation back and forth as we battled to share with Leah all our memories of the city.
If Paul were here he’d likely have called me on his cell to ask if I’d heard the news. He is always the first to inform me of world events. He probably would have made some jibe, as we are likely to throw at each other, turning it into something political. But, it would be half-hearted in light of such tragedy. I don’t know if someone has shared with my brother this horrible event, likely he’ll hear about it before I tell him. There are no real silver linings in tragedies like this, but we cling to those things that bring us hope such as the good in those who tried to help. We offer our memories of marathons and cities that once seemed safe. We pray for a better world. And, in our confusion we turn to each other because it is not news we revel in at times like this, but in our shared humanity. We reach for those we love, seeking safe harbor and nod to everyone else, drawing them too, a little bit closer. The news is, at times like this, we realize everyone's our brother.