What it means to be Boston Strong

It has been almost two weeks now since the Boston Marathon ended in a nightmarish terrorist attack; it has been nine days since Boston was paralyzed by a manhunt and Watertown was a battleground. The news cycles are moving on.

But among the elements of the story that will stay with me a long time is this: The reaction of my good friend, Khatchig Mouradian. Khatchig lives in Watertown and the firefight between Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev and the Boston police occurred in his neighborhood. When I woke up that Friday morning, April 19, and saw Watertown was in the news, I texted him to make sure he was safe. His response? “I just gave an interview to a newspaper in Turkey. I said I’m so used to explosions that I slept through them.”

Khatchig grew up in Beirut during that country’s cataclysmic civil war. He spent so many nights in bomb shelters teaching his younger sisters to play chess – taking their mind off the reality that their home was, once again, being shelled – that both girls would grow into Lebanese chess champions and win numerous regional and international tournaments.

Likewise, there are my friends from Israel who, at different points in their lives, knew that any moment a bus might burst into flames or a missile might explode in the street.

Obviously our country is not exempt from terror. At different times in the past two decades, we have been targeted by foreigners and by our own citizens. We all know the worst examples of each: The attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan on the one hand, and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, on the other.

And we will be attacked again. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security may unravel and stop a thousand schemes, but eventually they will miss one – as they did with the brothers Tsarnaev. This is not a criticism of either organization; it’s only an acknowledgment that perfection is impossible in this game. We’re not talking nine innings; we’re talking every single day of every single year. And this is a very violent world.

But we don’t live under the shadow of terrorism the way some parts of the world do. We don’t for two reasons: First of all, because even though perfection is impossible, we come impressively close. Second, because even though we know the violently alienated are out there, we don’t let them win. We go about our lives.

Sometimes, I’m frustrated with our country. Most recently I was aggravated when we failed to achieve meaningful gun control, despite the horrific slaughter at an elementary school in Connecticut last December. But more times than not I am proud of who we are and what we accomplish. The heroism of the runners and doctors and first responders that followed the Boston Marathon bombing is another legacy to that tragic moment in our history. So was the work of our law enforcement officials. The spirit of Boston in the days after the attack has left me moved and inspired.

Which brings me back to my friend in Watertown. Khatchig is the editor of “The Armenian Weekly” and a genocide scholar. If anyone understands the historical context of violence and terror, it’s a genocide scholar. If anyone understands a world where people detonate bombs designed to kill innocent people, it’s a fellow who grew up in Beirut. He also happens to be one of the smartest people I know. This was his response when I asked him what it felt like to witness the sort of violence he knew from his childhood and young adulthood in Lebanon occur in his neighborhood in Massachusetts:

“It is when hatred and violence strike close to home – whether home is Beirut or Watertown – that our true commitment to the values and principles on which we pride ourselves is tested. Terror is defeated by upholding those principles – across the board and all the time – and not by renouncing them with the excuse of making home a safer place. That, for me, is homeland security.”

It will be long after the news cycles have moved on that we have fully regained our equilibrium. In the meantime, I will take pride in the people of eastern Massachusetts, and comfort in the courageous way they have, pure and simple, gone on living. That’s what it means to win. That’s what it means to be Boston Strong.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on April 28, 2013. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” arrives on July 9.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “What it means to be Boston Strong

  1. Pam Wilson says:

    I heard you’re going to be in Istanbul giving a talk. Can you tell me where and when? Thanks!

Comments are closed.