Boston is not an easy place to grow up.
It’s a rough, feisty culture where dissing on each other is considered friendly conversation, a sports brawl is good fun, and where subzero temperatures and a foot of snow are considered “a bit nippy.”
Complaining about anything other than the New York Yankees will have Bostonians calling you a “wicked wus” faster than you can run and hide in one of our ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts.
But that said, I think my fellow Bostonians will cut me some slack when I say that this week has ripped my guts out. It’s devastated all of us.
As I write this, the entire city is shut down in the surreal hunt for one of the bombing suspects.
Schools and businesses are closed; residents, like my father and his husband, are stuck in their homes until further notice.
You hear a lot of different city names, but most of us from the region consider Boston to be a conglomeration of everything inside of Route 128.
It’s one community, one culture.
A friend who grew up in my hometown, Lexington, emailed me pictures Friday morning of Kenmore Square, downtown Boston, the North End, Watertown, Somerville, Cambridge and the Longfellow Bridge completely barren of drivers or pedestrians on what’s usually a heavily congested work morning.
“This madness is getting to me far more than the bombing, oddly,” he told me.
This isn’t supposed to happen in Boston.
But I know the day’s eerie silence is more of a blizzard quiet. People are waiting out the end of this terrorist nor’easter.
They’re thinking of the days when they’ll return to The Pour House, a favorite watering hole a few blocks from the bombings on Boylston Street, so they can knock back some Sam Adams Boston Lager and argue about whether the Bruins can make a good run for the Stanley Cup this year.
Bostonians never back down from a fight. We’re too defiant by nature.
Carved in a rock in Lexington is a quote from Capt. John Parker, who commanded the militia against British soldiers when the first shots were fired at the start of the Revolutionary War:
“Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
That’s who we are. Don’t mess with us. We will end you.
It was April 19, 1775, when Parker said those words.
And for more than 200 years, the people of Boston have commemorated what happened there, through a holiday we now celebrate as Patriots’ Day on the third Monday in April.
It’s Boston Marathon day, but it’s a whole lot more than that.
In Lexington, I remember waking up every year at some ghastly hour each year — 5:30 a.m. or earlier — to listen to the Paul Revere reenactor ride through town shouting “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
After that, we’d watch reenactments of the historic battle on Lexington Green and the British march to Concord, where they were looking for weapons. Lexington forces didn’t fare too well in the first battle, but other minutemen from Concord banded together afterwards and sent the Redcoats packing, coattails between their legs, at the Old North Bridge.
On Patriots’ Day, after watching the action, we’d line the streets to celebrate with a parade, then head into the city to cheer on the marathoners, drink beer and grill.
For Bostonians it’s a bigger holiday than even the Fourth of July. And like many other expats, the first time I realized it wasn’t a national holiday was when I left the area to go to college.
So every year it’s been a day when I introduce others to Boston culture — often by bringing homemade chowder to work or forcing co-workers to read “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
It’s been hard to be on the other side of the country watching my city be torn apart by the work of two individuals whom I can’t describe in print without some serious censorship.
I moved away from Boston 20 years ago, when I was 23, but it will always be home — no matter how much I love living in Southwest Washington.
My family is still there, friends I’ve known for more than a quarter of a century are there. I still go back to visit every year or two. I know those streets well.
As I watched the bombers stab into the heart of my cultural identity, I posted this on my Facebook:
“Sitting here on the other side of the country, baffled and speechless. The sun is out, things are humming along here. It feels surreal. Wish I could do something. Thinking about all my friends and family back in Boston.”
Over the week I’ve been devastated, angry, drained and confused by all the conflicting reports in these days of instant news.
But I’ve also been overwhelmed by the support of the whole country and by co-workers who have come to my desk several times to ask how I’m doing or listen to me vent.
Watching Yankees fans sing “Sweet Caroline” — a Red Sox tradition — at their game after the bombings brought tears to my eyes. The fans may love to hate each other, but it’s always been a playful hate — more fun than mean-spirited. New Yorkers, more than anyone, understand what those attacks felt like.
And watching Bruins fans collectively sing the National Anthem on the team’s first day back Wednesday also gave me goose bumps.
It was a defiant singing. Watching the crowd, you could see a bit of Patriots’ Day, of Lexington and Concord — and the resolve of a community coming back from a punch to the face, saying “OK, bring it. If you mean to have a war, let it begin here.”