April 2013

Boston Public Library with flags

On Sunday when J and I took the T into Boston to see the samurai at the Museum of Fine Arts, we stopped at Copley Square to visit the makeshift memorial that has arisen near the site of the Boston Marathon bombings. I wanted to see where it all happened—I wanted to stand on the very spot—even though the bombings happened in a place where I’ve stood many times before. Somehow, I hoped that being there, now, would help me understand what it must have been like to be there, then.

Paper cranes

The Marathon bombings happened in a place where I’ve frequently been. Years ago, during the first year of my Master’s program at Boston College, I lived in a depressing, ant-infested apartment in Malden—a lifetime away from campus, it seemed—and the Boston Public Library at Copley Square was like a second home to me.

Shoes and teddy bears

During the second year of my Master’s program, I lived in a garden flat in Beacon Hill, a stone’s throw from Boston’s Back Bay, so I’d regularly watch the marathon near the finish line on Boylston Street, right across from the library. In those days, I’d typically show up in the afternoon, after the elite front runners and fleet-of-foot had already finished, when the injured, the underdogs, and the unlikely—the folks, in other words, who really needed an audience to cheer them on—were gamely limping their way to the finish line.

Pray for Boston

Revisiting Boylston Street cemented the realization that the only thing separating me and countless other Marathon spectators from being at the Right Place at the Wrong Time was simply time and chance. If tragedy struck at 2:50 pm on April 15, 2013, it could have easily struck minutes, hours, or even years earlier: then rather than now, that year rather than this.

NY [heart] Boston

Why did tragedy strike here and now, with these particular people and passersby present? That is the great unanswerable question in the aftermath of tragedy, a version of the scandal of particularity, as theologians call it. If either grace or grief (take your pick) can happen anywhere and at any time, why did one or the other happen Now and Here? It’s not morbid curiosity that has been driving Bostonians to visit the bombing site in droves: it is the abiding, unanswerable question every survivor at some point asks: “Why not me?”

These people tried to make life bad for the people of Boston

In the aftermath of tragedy, there is also a curious desire—one that might seem counter-intuitive, if you’re observing it secondhand—to immerse oneself in a large, anonymous crowd, or to simply be outside with others. Since the Boston Marathon happens on a state holiday, many of us watched coverage of the bombings in the relative isolation of our homes, with only our closest loved ones present. “Stay away from crowds” was one of the warnings issued in the immediate aftermath of the attack, as Boylston Street was blocked, the Marathon was cancelled, and confused runners were re-routed to safety.

Flags and rosary

This isolationist message was underscored on Lockdown Friday, when venturing outside and gathering in crowds were officially verboten. After the second bombing suspect was captured and the city-wide lockdown was rescinded, the collective psyche gravitated irresistibly in the opposite direction. Now, there is something hugely soothing about being outside and with others, whether at a memorial service, candlelight vigil, or bustling baseball game. The impulse is insistent: we will get through this together, and we will do it by coming together.

Flip flops and flowers

Sunday was a positively gorgeous spring day, a perfect day to take the T into town and walk around with throngs of placid pedestrians. Our trolley was packed with Red Sox fans and a woman who was proudly taking her grand-daughter to the Big Apple Circus, just as she had taken the girl’s mother years before. On Sunday there was a home Celtics game in the afternoon, a home Bruins game in the evening, and “Art in Bloom” all day at the MFA: a little something for everyone on a mild and sunny day when it felt like all of Boston was finally blooming.

Flags and flowers

It was, in other words, a bustling day in the city, with the entire world (it seemed) showing up stroll down Boylston Street and pay their respects at a makeshift, open-air memorial.

I will run in memory of Krystle, Martin, Lingzi, and all the victims

After arriving in Copley Square, J and I had to wait in line to view the piles of offerings left along a quadrangle of metal barricades set up in Copley Plaza to contain a teeming outpouring of flowers, running shoes, stuffed animals, handwritten notes, signs, paintings, T-shirts, rosaries, ball-caps, and origami cranes adorning every available surface.

Four crosses

In one corner of the memorial area, there was a heap of bracelets and meditation beads; atop another pile of flowers, someone had left a waterlogged copy of a favorite children’s book. Elsewhere, someone had left an unopened box of spaghetti and a tin of cookies—a nod, perhaps, to a marathoner’s pre-race stint of carbo-loading—and I saw several separate piles of coins, as if the impulse to leave a memento led onlookers to empty their pockets, offering anything at hand.

Spare change

At the memorial, there were rubber ducks and stone angels, a plaster Pieta and candles. One tree was draped with rosaries and faded prayer flags, and another had seemingly sprouted a bouquet of American flags from its base.


The sheer volume of stuff was both amazing and overwhelming: such an outpouring of love for the dead, the injured, and for Boston on the whole.

Nashville believes

As large as it was, the memorial mound continued to grow as we wended our way through the piles, pointing and reading notes and snapping photos.


One father helped his little girl add her contribution to the pile—it was shiny and sparkly, decorated with ribbons and glitter—while a loose cluster of twenty-somethings wrote messages on blue and yellow strips of paper that they added to an ever-growing chain, every link a prayer.

Paper chain

It was incredibly moving to see such an abundant, seemingly worldwide outpouring of love: a tidal surge of well-wishes from everywhere, as if a wave had overwhelmed us with a great teeming detritus of remembrance.

A sea of hats

When we witness tragedy from afar, whether from across town or across the country, we want to do something in response, even if all we can do is sign a banner or leave a handwritten note.

One Boston, inscribed

Examining the neatly arranged assortment of offerings felt like browsing a giant yard sale or flea market where every item carried words of encouragement rather than a price tag: priceless.

Icons and artwork

But out of the many came the occasional one, individual messages that stopped me short with their poignancy: the note, for instance, from police officers in Colorado promising to take over the watch for slain MIT police officer Sean Collier…

We'll take the watch from here

…or the child who drew the “poisonous bomb” the only way he knew how, which was like something out of a Road Runner cartoon.

The poisonous bomb sounded like it hurt many people

But the individual item that hit me hardest—a surprise surge of sentiment that threatened to turn my Boston Strong into Boston Sobs—was a still-packaged plaque showing a young boy with hands folded in prayer: the kind of thing you’d give a little boy for his First Communion.

May the love of Jesus Christ be with you always

I don’t know if eight-year-old Martin Richard was Catholic, but this much I know: he won’t be taking Communion with his classmates this year, having achieved a premature oneness with eternity instead.

# 8 Martin Richard

I’m not sure I found any answers by visiting the Boston Marathon bombing site, but what I found was an upsurge of hope. Whether they acted alone or with accomplices, the Boston bombing suspects can’t possibly outnumber the people who came out to walk on Sunday or the people who continue to heap their blessings on a city it’s easy to fall in love with all over again.

Love wins

Click here for a complete photo set of images from the makeshift Boston Marathon memorial in Copley Square, or click here for my earlier post about (and pictures from) this year’s Boston Marathon.


Yesterday J and I took the T into Boston to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, where we saw Paul Cezanne’s “The Large Bathers,” which is currently on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as an exhibit of samurai armor. Although I don’t know much about Cezanne or the samurai, I was enchanted by both exhibits, albeit in entirely different ways.

Admiring Cezanne

Cezanne’s “Bathers” are calmly monumental with their bold, blurry pastels. Although the painting is in oil, Cezanne creates a watercolor-like effect that is simultaneously provocative and mesmerizing: the kind of painting you could study for an eternity, drawn into the depths of its soothing pastoral vision.

Side by side

Displayed alongside Paul Gauguin’s equally evocative “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going,” Cezanne’s “Bathers” represents a turn away from the classical nude, which seems almost too-perfect in its idealized timelessness, and toward a more embodied Modernist vision. The bodies Cezanne and Gauguin depict look like actual, earthly bodies at rest, and it seems natural to rest a while in their presence.

Cezanne and Gauguin

The pieces of samurai armor currently on display at the MFA, on the other hand, are almost cartoonishly quirky, and I immediately fell in love with them. After walking through several galleries containing glass-case examples of helmets, breastplates, shin-guards, and other armature, J and I entered a room with two life-size free-standing displays: on one side, a trio of fully-bedecked warriors galloping on heavily-armored steeds…


…and on the other, a gang of walking warriors, their ornate armature letting enemies know in an instant that these guys mean business.


When you look like a bad-ass space alien and carry a big sword, you can let your appearance do the talking.


This is the last week of the semester at Framingham State, which means I’ll be swamped with paper-grading for the next two weeks. It felt good to take a virtual vacation at the MFA yesterday, traveling first to France to lounge with Cezanne and then to imperial Japan to stand with samurai. I’ve set the photo at the top of this post as my desktop background: a silent reminder to stay samurai strong over the next few, tiring weeks.

Click here to see my complete photo-set from yesterday’s MFA outing. Enjoy!

Daffodils and tombstones

Last night A (not her real initial) and I met at Mount Auburn Cemetery to take a quick walk before heading to the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown for pancakes and conversation: something we’ve done more than a few times in the past. Last night’s cemetery stroll and diner date was more than just another chance to chat over comfort food: it was an intentional act of purification. Ever since Watertown, Massachusetts made the national news a week ago for being the site of the Boston bombing manhunt, I’ve been wanting to reclaim a sleepy little city that’s just one town over from mine: a normally quiet suburb that most folks outside of Boston probably never heard of until the Tsarnaev brothers made it infamous.


Yesterday marked one week since the day-long lockdown that turned the greater Boston area into a ghost town. Lockdown Friday started with emails and recorded phone messages from the mayor telling us to stay indoors, and it ended with us watching televised coverage of people cheering in the streets after the remaining bombing suspect had been captured. In between, J and I did indeed stay inside, remaining glued to CNN and local televised news reports as we waited for some sense of closure to end a truly terrible week.

Setting sun

Lockdown Friday was a gorgeous spring day, which made staying inside that much more difficult; what made the day surreal was watching television coverage of places that are both nearby and familiar. Although I typically describe Mount Auburn Cemetery as being in Cambridge since that’s where the main entrance is, most of the cemetery actually lies in Watertown. To get to Mount Auburn from Cambridge, you take a Watertown bus from Harvard Square; to get to Mount Auburn from Newton, you drive down Watertown Avenue. During last week’s manhunt, local and federal law enforcement used the parking lot at the Watertown Mall as a staging area, and as I watched each televised press conference, I remembered the various times I’d parked there to buy socks, underwear, or other “essentials” at the Watertown Target.

Diner mural - April 26 / Day 116

J probably can tell you exactly how many times I said “Look, that’s the diner!” as CNN showed one of their reporters standing on Mount Auburn Street, reporting on every gunshot or dog bark she heard. (Jon Stewart on The Daily Show rightly skewered this same reporter for remarking that the streets of Watertown were eerily quiet, as if someone had dropped a bomb somewhere.) J didn’t need to be told again and again and again that the shiny silver building visible in the background was “the” diner where A and I go for pancakes after our cemetery strolls: he could clearly see that for himself. But I kept pointing it out because I couldn’t quite believe a quiet little neighborhood just one town over from ours was suddenly the site of Breaking News.

Little lamb

Last night A and I went walking at Mount Auburn Cemetery followed by dinner at the Deluxe Town Diner as a way of reclaiming Watertown: now that Suspect One is dead and Suspect Two has been captured, it’s time for Watertown to go back to being a sleepy little suburb about six miles outside of Boston. For the most part, Watertown seems to be returning to normal: last night, Mount Auburn was as lovely as always, and the diner was bustling with Friday night customers. The only indications that Watertown hasn’t completely returned to normal were the “Boston Strong” and “Boston We are One” slogans on MBTA bus marquees and a curious rush-hour traffic jam I experienced near the intersection of Watertown and Galen Streets. From my vantage point near the end of a long queue of cars, I could see flashing lights as several police vehicles escorted something large and white out of Watertown. Only later did I figure out I’d probably witnessed police moving the infamous boat that Suspect Number Two was captured in.

Potato pancakes, spinach and cheese omelette, johnny cakes

Apart from traffic delays caused by evidence removal, it felt good to return to the familiar calm of Mount Auburn Cemetery, and it felt even better to enjoy comfort food at a diner that was bustling with Friday night customers. Like other businesses in the greater Boston area, the Deluxe Town Diner lost a day’s worth of business on Lockdown Friday, so A and I made a point to leave our waitress an extra-generous tip: a small token of appreciation for a sleepy little suburb that I’m guessing is eager to return to relative obscurity.

Click here for more photos from last night’s purification trip to Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Deluxe Town Diner. Enjoy!

Boston = Strong

On Sunday, J and I went to an afternoon Red Sox game. It was a picture-perfect day with a cloudless sky and comfortably cool temperatures: the kind of day when you can’t think of anywhere you’d rather be than sitting in the centerfield bleachers, watching a ballgame on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Flag at half staff

When J and I bought tickets to this particular Red Sox game months ago, we had no idea the timing would be significant. Happening less than a week after the Boston Marathon bombings, Sunday’s ballgame was the first time after the attack that J and I went to a crowded public event. When J and I bought tickets to this particular Red Sox game, in other words, we had no idea that simply showing up and sitting in the centerfield bleachers surrounded by strangers would feel like an act of purification: proof that life in New England can return to “almost normal” in the aftermath of heartbreak, and proof that we can still gather in a crowd with anonymous others—a big, teeming throng, just like Marathon Monday—without anything bad happening.

Big Papi at bat

When you go to a Sunday afternoon ballgame at Fenway Park, it’s easy to feel like you’re attending a kind of grassy, open-air church with a diverse community of baseball “believers.” There’s something inexplicably wholesome about watching a ballgame on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with everyone’s eyes fixed on the same Field of Dreams, and on Sunday I craved the quiet calm of this kind of secular fellowship.

Playing catch

Today I read a news story about a local priest who spoke at Marathon bombing victim Krystle Campbell’s funeral on Monday, then attended a Red Sox game with his father later that night, and something he said resonated with my own experience:

“Sports has been so important in the past week,” Fr. Hines said. “You’re gathering a lot of people in one place, whether it’s at the Garden or Fenway Park, and it allows them that sort of civic moment where we’re all together. It’s kind of a concentrated moment. Sports in Boston is so important. We’re indoctrinated from a young age. We follow them and bleed their colors and offers us an opportunity to come together and have some enjoyment even if it’s just a moment for us to get together and talk and laugh.”

Grounds crew at work

Fr. Hines talks about the communal feeling fans experience when they’re gathered to root for the same team, and on Sunday, it felt good to feel that kind of fellowship again. Given that I sometimes feel claustrophobic in crowds, I’d wondered if I’d panic when I found myself surrounded by strangers so soon after the Marathon attack, but the familiar atmosphere of “Friendly Fenway” helped quell that reaction.

Jacoby Ellsbury at work

When you go to church on a sunny Sunday, you expect to sing hymns, and I’d wondered whether I’d get weepy when we sang the national anthem before the start of the game, “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch, and “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning. Instead, it was a song I hadn’t expected to hear—Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” piped in on the public address system—that caused my eyes to mist when I heard a handful of fans join together to sing the chorus:

Don’t worry about a thing
’cause every little thing gonna be alright

B Strong poster with peanut shells

I don’t know if I believe in that Field of Dreams enough to say that every little thing is going to be all right: it certainly was bittersweet to enjoy a ballgame on a sunny Sunday with the memory of those who were killed, injured, and traumatized in last week’s attacks. But it felt good to feel like every little thing might be okay, eventually, the fellowship of a ballpark full of fans feeling as close to “back to normal” as I could have hoped for.

Click here for more pictures from Sunday afternoon’s ballgame between the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals. Enjoy!

Hydrangea leaves - April 22 / Day 112

At 2:50 pm last Monday, I was taking a break from grading to sort through and edit the photos I’d taken at the Boston Marathon that morning, which I used to illustrate yesterday’s post. It wasn’t until about a half hour later that J and I received a phone call from a relative asking if we were okay: our first indication that something bad had happened in Boston, and we should turn on the news.

Like little bells

I spent the rest of last Monday not grading papers, listening to news coverage while continuing to sort through and edit happy, festive photos that in no way matched the version of events I was hearing, as if I were watching one movie while listening to the audio of another.

Today at 2:50 pm, I was taking a break from grading to sort through a handful of photos I’d taken around lunchtime–the photos illustrating this post–when an alarm I’d set earlier in the day went off, sounding with a cascade of cathedral bells. The governor had requested that Massachusetts citizens observe a moment of silence at 2:50 today, one week after the first Boston Marathon bomb went off, so when my alarm sounded, I stopped what I was doing, closed my laptop, and sat in silence for a minute, thinking about the people whose lives ended or were irrevocably changed one week ago today.

Never give up

Now that the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect has been taken into custody, a wave of relief has washed over the greater Boston area after an emotionally draining week. Now that the Boston Marathon is no longer breaking news, I want to show you some scenes you haven’t seen in the national coverage: images of the Boston Marathon I want to remember.

Eventual winner (Jeptoo)

The Marathon you saw in the news was the site of carnage, trauma, and heroism: a series of events set into motion by cowards with pressure cookers. But the Marathon I want to remember is the one that happened earlier in the day and out in the suburbs, before the elite runners and the regular Joes who follow in their footsteps had reached Heartbreak Hill, before anyone other than the fastest wheelchair runners had crossed the finish line, and before everyone’s heart was broken.

Wheelchair with horn

This is the fifth year J and I have watched the marathon wend its way through Newton, walking from our house to an intersection on Commonwealth Avenue between Miles 18 and 19. Over the past five years, we’ve established something of a ritual, standing at “our” corner and cheering for the last of the wheelchair runners, the first of the fleet-footed women, the arrival of the elite men, and then the throngs of anonymous runners who come next: a surging sea of pounding footfalls.

Calf sleeves

Last year, I’ve explained how I always get choked up watching the runners pass on their way to Heartbreak Hill, and this year was no exception. Newton residents take our responsibility as spectators seriously, devoutly believing that if the runners are going to survive the series of elevations that give Chestnut Hills its name, they are going to do so only via the impetus of loud cheering, clapping, drumming, bugling, and cowbell-ringing. It’s as if Marathon Monday is a massive love-fest where the sheer enthusiasm of residents rooting on strangers will push everyone up and over Heartbreak Hill.

Tooting her own horn

New Englanders are renowned for their reserve, but that chilliness melts on Marathon Monday. For this reason, I’ve come to think of the Marathon as being Massachusetts’ high holy day: an event that coincides with the arrival of spring (finally!) after another long winter, and an event that gives the residents of greater Boston an excuse to spend a day outside mixing and mingling with their neighbors.

Meet and greet

If you watch the Boston Marathon near the finish line on Boylston Street, as I did when I lived in Beacon Hill, you’ll find yourself in a cosmopolitan mix of locals, tourists, passersby, and passers-through. You’ll hear a babel of languages as friends and family cheer for “their” runners, and you’ll be reminded at all turns that the Boston Marathon is a world-class event that happens in an international city. Everyone around the world, it seems, loves Boston, and everyone around the world, it seems, eventually shows up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon: the whole world in a single, thronging crowd.

Paddy runs for Haiti

Out in the Boston suburbs, however, the scene is much more pastoral and parochial…and I mean that in a good way. Out in the ‘burbs, most of the people watching the Marathon are locals who camp out for extended stretches of time, toting coolers, picnic baskets, and wagons filled with footballs, soccer balls, Frisbees, and ball gloves: the accoutrements of a day in the park.

Tiger hat

This year, a child watching the marathon next to us was practicing her pogo-stick skills; across the street, a child was mastering his scooter moves. Viewed from the finish line, the Boston Marathon is a world-class sporting event; viewed from the suburbs, Marathon Monday is a massive, very loud block party that happens to have a road race running through it.


In the days after Monday’s bombing, I’ve experienced the usual emotions that arise in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. I’ve experienced grief and helplessness, fear and anger. The nature of my anger has surprised me because of how primal and territorial it has felt. Once the initial shock and sorrow at the unfolding carnage settled, I felt a sense of violation. Whoever did this doesn’t deserve to be in my city, I remember thinking with fierce resolve. This wasn’t a xenophobic reaction, since initially we didn’t know who the bombers were or where they hailed from; instead, it was the visceral reaction of a person whose home has been invaded or whose sacred space has been desecrated.

Flute and drums

As I said above, Marathon Monday is a high holy day in Boston, a day devoted to the secular observance of Good Neighborliness. On Marathon weekend, Boston is inundated with visitors who come to run, cheer on runners, or just watch, and on Marathon Monday, locals turn out in droves to display extreme hospitality.


“Hospitality” might not be the first word you’d associate with the Boston Marathon, but it’s a virtue that’s entirely apt. On Marathon Monday, locals volunteer in droves to hand out water, direct traffic, aid the injured, and cheer until they’re hoarse. On Marathon Monday, locals hand out fruit, wave signs, and offer an infinite number of high-fives, all in the spirit of spurring on strangers.

High five

The Boston Marathon is Massachusetts’ annual holiday of helping, and it’s that willingness to help, I’ve decided, that chokes me up every year. All of us, deep down, have the urge to help others: to feel like we have made a difference. Cheering on a marathon runner—especially the ordinary folks at the back of the pack who need encouragement—makes you feel like you’re somehow contributing. Maybe someone is beginning to tire or cramp; maybe someone’s inner enemy is saying “Quit” or “I can’t.” When you cheer on a marathon runner—when you hold out a cup of water, an orange slice, or a freezer pop, or when you wave your sign or hit your drum or hold out your hand for a high five—you’re holding out hope that we, collectively, can somehow help a stranger. Maybe at a particular moment of need, you can offer exactly what’s needed: the right words, or a heartfelt bit of encouragement.

His own cheering section

I believe that deep down, we all want to help—we all want to encourage—we all want to be a part of something bigger and greater and more decent than our own individual egos. This, my gut tells me, is what the marathon bombers simply Did Not Get. Marathon Monday is a celebration of radical inclusion, where everyone cheers for anyone and alongside anyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from. Turning this 26-mile festival of inclusion into an occasion for injury and trauma is more than criminal: it’s sacrilege. Whatever the bombers’ motivation turns out to be, this much I know: they are already the victims of their own small-mindedness.

Go Zucher - You are awesome

There was one photo I almost didn’t take on Monday morning. After J and I had spent a few hours cheering ourselves hoarse at “our” intersection, we did what we always do, which is follow the runners on foot, walking toward Newton City Hall. Along the way, we saw a runner lying on his back in obvious pain, suffering from a leg cramp or other injury. In the past, we’ve seen runners stop on the side of the road to stretch or take a rest, and we’ve passed them quietly, allowing them the privacy of their own pain. But this was the first time we saw a runner lying prone, in obvious need of help, and somehow it seemed wrong to photograph a stranger in a moment of duress. After a split-second of thought, though, I took that photo, but not because it shows a stranger suffering. I took that photo because of what else it shows.

A little help

The Boston Marathon is Massachusetts’ high holy day of hospitality because if you fall down in our neighborhood, we will stop and help you. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe, or where you come from. It doesn’t matter if we know or like you. If there is a man or woman down, anonymous spectators will stop and help. By the time J and I reached this runner, a police officer had already arrived, and by the time we’d walked by, a medic was jogging to the scene. Help was on the way, but it almost seemed like a moot point because help had already arrived.

Have some water!

National coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings has shown image after image of people helping the injured and traumatized, and that coverage is true. But don’t think for a minute that this sort of heroism happens in Boston only in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Even before everyone’s broken heart turned toward Boylston Street last Monday, out in the Boston ’burbs people did what they do every year on Patriots’ Day: they showed up and helped.

Go! Go! Go! / Have an orange

When we cheer for marathon runners, we get a surge of satisfaction knowing that maybe our encouragement was appreciated. Some have wondered whether the Boston Marathon will happen next year, and my reply is that the Boston Marathon will happen next year even if I have to lace up shoes and walk every last inch from Hopkinton to downtown Boston myself. The Boston Marathon must go on, next year and every year, because as long as there is an inkling of hope and decency in the human heart, that impulse cannot be denied.


Click here for a photo set of happy images from the 2013 Boston Marathon, taken before last week’s heartbreak happened.

Crash on lockdown

You’ve probably heard the Boston area is on lockdown while authorities search for the second suspect in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing. Luckily, our cats are highly practiced when it comes to hanging out, hunkering down, and otherwise doing a whole lot of nothing, inside, so we’re spending the day taking lessons from the lockdown experts.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Pets.

Pussy willow flowers

Earlier today, I took a lunchtime walk at Edgell Grove Cemetery in Framingham. I technically didn’t have time to go walking between my classes at Framingham State, as it’s the time of the semester when my paper-piles loom. But if there’s any lesson I took from yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombing, it’s that life is short, so you have to walk while the walking is good.

Poison ivy on tree trunk

There’s something oddly comforting about taking a lunch hour walk at a woodsy cemetery, especially when you’ve been watching too much news coverage and have a heavy heart. When you walk at a cemetery, you’re alone with your thoughts, moving at the speed of your own footsteps, with nothing to do, really, other than gaze at the tombstones of strangers. Photography is prohibited a Edgell Grove, so I kept my camera in my purse. Freed from the desire to visually document my visit, all I was left with was the silence of my own solitary company.

Yesterday was Patriots’ Day, so the veterans’ graves at Edgell Grove were decorated with flags: so many flags. On one hillside, nearly every headstone bore a flag, as if the families in that quiet corner had promised to dedicate at least one child to military service, as Catholic families used to vow to dedicate one child to the church.


Although many of the stones at Edgell Grove Cemetery are old and worn, their flags commemorating wars I’ve only read about in history books, there were two more recent graves that caught my eye, both marking the graves of people who died young. The first was a stone with a photo inset that showed a cherubic toddler smiling for his portrait: the grave of a two-year-old. The second was a flag-decorated stone in the shape of two hands holding a heart: the grave of a 22-year-old Marine.

I don’t understand a world where young children and twenty-somethings are taken before their time, and I don’t understand a world where cruel-hearted people detonate pressure-cookers filled with ball bearings. But I understand the quiet calm that comes when you commemorate the dead who went before you, whether those dearly departed were your loved ones or the loved ones of strangers. I don’t understand the ways of sometimes cold, cruel world, but I understand the feel of the bare earth underfoot on a mild spring day, and I hope that a quiet walk in a sunny cemetery counts as a kind of commemoration, each footstep a word of unspoken prayer.

Norway maple flower bud - April 14 / Day 104

J and I are safe. We watched the Boston Marathon passing through Newton earlier today, arriving in time to watch the elite front-runners then staying to watch the first mass of regular, “average Joe” runners, as we have in the past. Both J and I took dozens of pictures of runners, spectators, and the atmosphere of festivity that always surrounds Marathon Day here in the Boston suburbs, as we have in the past. We watched the race, stopped for lunch, and walked home, as we always do…and then we learned about today’s explosions.

Norway maple bud

Now when I look at the pictures I took today, before the explosions, I feel a queasy heaviness in my stomach, knowing that had we and the folks around us been further down the race route, those pictures could have been very different. Although it’s been years since I’ve watched the Boston Marathon near the finish line, where the explosions occurred, J and I are accustomed to watching the race where it passes within a mile of our house: a world-class event that occurs in our own neighborhood. It’s sickening to think that a family-friendly, festive event–one I’ve enjoyed blogging in the past–is now associated with death, injury, and trauma.

So instead of showing any of the happy photos I took earlier today–photos of local folks, family, and friends cheering for runners, and the runners themselves–I’m showing you two photos I took yesterday, when Marathon Day still seemed like a happy occasion to look forward to and Boston and its suburbs felt like a safe place.

First forsythia flowers on rainy day - April 12 / Day 102

I’m currently reading Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. I’m a fan of Roach’s previous books, so I bought Packing for Mars when it first came out in paperback, then I promptly stuck it on my bookshelf and never got around to reading it. Now that Roach has come out with a new book, I figured I should go back and read her “old” one, so I’m currently slow-poking my way through her tongue-in-cheek account of the scientific challenges behind manned space travel.

Raindrops on new leaves

The basic premise of Packing for Mars is that space exploration calls for absolute precision and predictability, but human beings are anything but. Rocket scientists can engineer a spacecraft down to the merest micron, but what happens when an astronaut inside that craft gets an upset stomach, needs to relieve him- or herself, or falls in love with a crew-mate? In her usual hands-on style, Roach travels to Moscow to visit the Martian Surface Simulator, a module designed by the Institute of Biomedical Problems in order to study the psychological effects of long-term confinement. Were Russia or any other country to send human beings to Mars, they’d want to know how well those humans would cope with the isolation of being locked for months inside a cramped space capsule.

Daffodil bud on rainy day

In the course of talking with various Russian researchers, Roach discovers something that doesn’t surprise me at all. Apart from the simple discomforts of being away from family, sharing tight quarters with colleagues, and eating processed food from tubes, astronauts suffer woefully from the simple absence of nature. Sitting in the climate-controlled isolation of what David Bowie famously described as a “tin can,” astronauts come to crave the things the rest of us take for granted, like grass, trees, and flowers. As Roach explains, this phenomenon isn’t limited to astronauts:

I once met a man who told me that after landing in Christchurch, New Zealand, after a winter at the South Pole research station, he and his companions spent a couple days just wandering around staring in awe at flowers and trees. At one point, one of them spotted a woman pushing a stroller. “A baby!” he shouted, and they all rushed across the street to see. The woman turned the stroller and ran.

Sprouting scilla

Although I haven’t chased any baby strollers lately, every spring I feel a bit like those South Pole researchers. Having been locked for months in the tin can called “winter,” in spring I find myself gazing in wonder at the simple beauty of fresh leaves and flower buds. After all these years, you’d think the whole “spring” thing would get old, but it doesn’t. This year like every year, I still find myself looking at unfurling leaves and blooming flowers, wondering how exactly they ever fit inside their tight buds or how those buds ever survived months of snow, sleet, and cold.

Spring green

Later in the same chapter, Roach talks with cosmonaut Alexandr Laveikin, who spent six months in the Russian space station, Mir, and now runs Moscow’s Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts, where Roach tours a replica of the cramped living quarters inside the Mir’s main module. Recounting her conversation with Laveikin, Roach concludes

Humans don’t belong in space. Everything about us evolved for life on Earth. Weightlessness is an exhilarating novelty, but floaters soon begin to dream of walking. Earlier Laveikin told us, “Only in space do you understand what incredible happiness it is just to walk. To walk on Earth.”

Hen and chickens after overnight rain - April 11 / Day 101

The moment I read Laveikin’s remark about the “incredible happiness” of simply walking on Earth, I thought of one of my favorite passages from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness, a joyful little book that describes meditation as being as simple as paying attention and being grateful for life’s mundane wonders:

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own eyes. All is a miracle.


Thich Nhat Hanh has never explored outer space, but as a Buddhist monk, he’s spent plenty of time in the isolation chamber of his own mind. Most of us would have to leave Earth to appreciate Earth, and most of us have to spend a few months in the drear barrenness of winter to appreciate spring greenery. But Nhat Hanh realizes what it took Russian cosmonauts a lengthy space mission to figure out: the biggest wonder in the entire Universe is the Earth under your own two feet.

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