Grieving for a city that became a part of me

By Lisa Kaczke

The last time I watched the Boston Marathon was from my ninth-floor apartment looking down at the race route on Boylston Street, a mile from the finish line.

That day in 2011 was the conclusion of a three-day weekend that we knew to savor before diving into the last weeks of our graduate school semester, when the workload never seems to diminish and sleep is merely a suggestion.

Three friends and I had already seen a re-enactment of the battles for which Boston celebrates Patriots Day. We had loaded into a car at 7:30 a.m. and driven to Concord, sleep-deprived and exhausted. One of our class assignments was to live tweet the re-enactment of the Battle of Concord at Minute Man National Historical Park. The irony that we were tweeting like it was 1775 to learn about journalism’s future wasn’t lost on us and made the trip all the more memorable.

Returning to the Back Bay neighborhood that day, the marathon course through Boston was beginning to take form as the metal barricades were put into place. I later walked through Copley Square, making several detours around the finish line and tents that would be the point of triumph for so many of the runners we would be cheering on from the sidelines.

In all the times I’ve watched the Boston Marathon, my friends and I have enjoyed the atmosphere of happiness and joy that hangs in the air that day.

As I watched the video of bombs exploding in my former neighborhood on a sidewalk that I have walked so many times, there’s a loss of words to describe the feelings. Sadness, disbelief, gut-wrenching, unbelievable, horror, tragic – none of them seem to be enough to convey the feelings that arose for what was, for a time, my home.

As a young adult, I joined the past, present and future generations of Minnesotans drawn to Boston’s colleges and universities, to become one more connection in the network spanning the globe of alumni educated not only in Boston’s classrooms, but also its neighborhoods, dorms, libraries, bars, restaurants and historical sites. When I decided to go back to school for my master’s degree, any Boston school with the program I was looking for was at the top of my list.

It’s a city that ingrains itself into your heart unlike any city I’ve ever visited or lived in. You can feel its heart, its beat, its soul. You can see the toughness of its residents, but also their love for and loyalty to each other. As you sit in the Public Garden and the Common, the city is living and breathing, humming around you as its people walk where they need to go.

We, as college students, got folded into the mix of Boston, learning along the way the certain eccentricities that are only-in-Boston: Sept. 1 is a citywide moving day, how to identify tourists by how long they wait on the corner for the walk signal, trying to take the Green Line anywhere before and after Red Sox home games is a horrible idea.

You also learn that Marathon Monday is the best day of the year to be a Boston resident. The holiday means that the city’s residents are free from school and work to line the marathon route, cheering on every runner that comes through. It’s a day when everyone wants everyone to do well and all successes, no matter how small, are celebrated.

It grieves me that this special day was forever marred for so many people. I grieve for the hurting city that has given me so much – knowledge, friendships, relationships, happiness and years of life experiences.

But I have no doubt Boston will emerge from this tragedy as a community with even stronger bonds than already exist.

The news that a Boston University graduate student was among the three deaths caused my grad school friends and I to reach out to each other because in 2011, we were BU grad students celebrating Marathon Monday at various spots on Boylston Street. We didn’t know the student, but it doesn’t matter – the student is in our BU family.

Between my Boston friends and acquaintances, there’s a collective grieving among us this week, a feeling that our family has been harmed. Although we’re spread out in the country, practicing the professions we first learned in Boston, our hearts are always in the city that we all called home.


Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected]