I’ve lived in Boston full-time for about 8 years, and before that I was in the city every day for college, and before that I was coming here for field trips and family outings, because I’ve lived in Massachusetts all my life. I am a Bostonian.
When news of the bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon broke yesterday, everyone in the city started reaching out to one another. We sent “I’m OK” messages to friends and family, we tried to check in with everyone we knew in the city, we offered strangers our cell phones, our coats, our food, our bathrooms, and our spare beds, couches, futons, and air mattresses.
And as Boston reached out to make millions of little connections within city limits, the rest of the country reached out to make a connection with Boston. They’ve been sending emergency-response crews, they’ve been giving blood, they’ve been posting public tributes, they’ve been holding moments of silence, they’ve been tallying our ranks on Twitter to make sure we’re all safe, they’ve been looking for the helpers, they’ve been offering us moments of peace in the chaos.
And I—we—are profoundly grateful for all of that. Some of the best human instincts have been on display for the past 24 hours—the urge to help, to comfort, to be human together. It is profound; it is generous; it is beautiful.
So I ask, in this outpouring of fellow-feeling and generosity, one small favor. Please do not say, “We are all Bostonians today.”
I understand and adore the sentiment behind it. The sentiment is, “We grieve with you. We stand with you. We care. We’re here.” The sentiment is kind and empathetic and appreciated.
But I am in the business of making sure that what people say really expresses what they mean. And saying “We are all Bostonians” doesn’t really mean, “We mourn with you.” It means, “Our grief is the same as yours. We, too, are at the center of this tragedy.” And that rankles.
Only Boston is Boston. Only London is London. Only Madrid is Madrid. Only New York is New York. We may sorrow for their losses, we may feel wounded when they are attacked, we may keep them constantly in our thoughts, but it’s different when it’s your city, your places, your people.
Of course it’s different. We all know it’s different, which is why I’m certain no one means to sound like they’re trying to co-opt our grief. So, please, say instead what you really mean. Say you love us. Say you weep with us. Say you’re rooting for us.
To all those who have reached out to help or to comfort or to sympathize, even if the words you used were imperfect: Thank you. In times like these, “Thank you” doesn’t seem like enough, but it’s all I have. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Next year I’ll see you at the marathon.