Surviving Trauma : Boston, Cambridge and "Danny"
Surviving Trauma : Boston, Cambridge and "Danny"
Different Responses of Boston and Cambridge to the Marathon Crisis
The Boston Marathon is famous for its hills in Wellesley and Newton, notably Heartbreak Hill. After last year's bombing, heartbreak took on a new meaning. It extended to runners and spectators, families and individuals. How do we work our way out of the trauma? Some people can do better than others. So far, there is little evidence of significant contribution by philosophers and religious leaders. How have the governments of Boston and Cambridge provided leadership in coping with the crisis?
Boston appears to be doing a better job of having many people share the emotional overload. It has engaged in a vigorous initiative of publicity in recent weeks. The theme of Boston Strong, togetherness, and telling stories of healing has been effective. Support came from many Boston institutions, businesses and government offices.
By contrast, there has been virtual silence from Cambridge. One would think today that nothing had happened last year, that all emotions have been stifled. April 18 is the anniversary of the killing of MIT police officer Sean Collier in his patrol car on the Cambridge campus. MIT held a memorial service on its campus, but it was a rare isolated event in the city. It would seem that the city, the business community and the other university campuses have been unable to initiate action. Has the Peoples Republic gone brain-dead? Did the Innovation Center run out of steam? Impossible, activists assure us. There must be another explanation.
As in last year's coverage that won a Pulitzer prize, the Boston Globe has taken the lead in Marathon coverage this year -- with four days of major reports leading up to April 15. Globe printed a two-page photograph of 198 individuals with links to the tragedy and revival -- medics, runners, EMTs, spectators, police and fire officials, families and students. The theme was “One year, one city.” Fifty-six of them were identified as being from Boston or its institutions. Only five were from Cambridge and all were identified with MIT : three MIT campus patrolmen and two MIT students. If we separate out the MIT contingent, the photo had no other mention of Cambridge. It was as if the City did not exist and had no involvement in what happened. There were politicians from Boston, none from Cambridge. No professors from Harvard or MIT.
Boston had a strategy for dealing with the anniversary of the Marathon bombing. Cambridge did not. Both cities have tried, successfully or unsuccessfully, to try to find an explanation for this traumatic period. For both communities, a reasoned understanding of events was extremely difficult, and a cure for our anguish seemed beyond the horizon. Some sort of meaningful healing has been needed, and Boston made the greater strides in doing so.
It seems that Cambridge has not come to grips with the event, even after one year and is uncertain what to make of it today. The Cambridge press and even community TV have become surprisingly silent. Help and support came from Cambridge citizens as individuals -- not because of any organized effort to heal the anguish of Cambridge.
Why did so many people in Cambridge either have nothing to say or not know how to say it? Cambridge seemed suddenly speechless. Boston advertised all its heroes. Cambridge did not.
One Cambridge resident told me, “Boston certainly has gone all-out in commemorating the heroes and victims of last year's tragic event. Meanwhile, Cambridge almost seems to be sweeping it under the rug. I've asked a few if Cambridge was doing anything for the anniversary; nobody knew of anything.”
A true Cambridge story does exist out there, but it is just harder to find. There was special shame and embarrassment that the two brothers lived just off Central Square, and attended Cambridge schools. People familiar with the two brothers seem to have had a sense of being deceived. Personal confidence in one's judgments was left in tatters. In this sense the wounds in Cambridge went deeper than those in Boston and are harder to resolve. Time and silence can indeed create a sense of healing, but they do not create a positive spirit to replace the anguish.
Another resident said, “I am wondering if Cambridge is having a more difficult time making sense of all of this. After all, Boston had the hospitals, EMTs, police, good Samaritans and rehab experts. Cambridge had the brothers as residents and school students -- who came back to Cambridge to get gas.” It is almost as if the populace had lost its ability to think straight.
“Boston has truly faced and absorbed the largeness and the complexity of the blow,” he said. “Many forms of expression, acknowledgment, grief, resolve, community, spirituality, reflection etc. Yet we, who housed and educated the brothers, whose mosque was theirs, we seem as disconnected as any old city anywhere, almost noting it in passing.” Even MIT seemed to be doing so little.
THE WBUR STORY
In a rare reflective story on the Marathon from a Cambridge perspective, WBUR offered an insightful story into the bruised psyche of Cambridge. The reporter captured some of the special agonies that enveloped the city, although the headline for the story was misleading in claiming that “Cambridge is coming to terms with its close connection to the Boston Marathon suspects”
Reporter Jeb Sharp for WBUR said “It took me a long time to realize just how deeply Cambridge, the town where I live, had been affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.” It was a much deeper scar than in Boston. The wound seemed more personal and local than in Boston. Boston could open itself up and let others join its sense of tragedy. Cambridge turned inward and suffered alone. He saw that “there was a deep psychological wound” because “Cambridge prides itself on its outlook and cherishes its diversity.”
This wound struck Cambridge schools rather severely. “We're proud to be a multicultural, accepting, welcoming environment,” says Damon Smith, principal of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, the public high school the brothers attended. “The connection that the two young men were students at our school was a tough pill to swallow because we’re trying to do what we can to shape young lives and also the world. We had to question a lot about our efforts. It was quite shocking.”
That belief was shattered by the bombings. “Here these two young men, especially the younger one, seemed to be going along just fine,” he said. “What happened? How could such a thing happen in the same reality as our day-to-day world of making sure kids succeed and looking out for them and their families. How could this happen?” He offered very valid questions, but no answers came from those closest to the scene.
The wound included a sense of treachery. “The idea that two immigrant kids it had welcomed would turn on the community with such hatred and terror was more than disturbing. Adults who pour themselves into teaching and coaching and mentoring young people every day were bereft that two of their own had allegedly committed these atrocities.” In terms of resentment, it may be worse than cheating in marriage.
A sense of community trust has been damaged. It is not just a loss, but a theft. So far no one seems to have spoken publicly about this problem and how it affects both teachers and student-friends. Broken trust is often shielded by denial. One student reported that “I feel like someone convinced him to do it. The only reason I can’t rest easy with it is because I feel like someone changed him that way.” But what caused him to change, while deceiving so many people, including his friends?
Some efforts at understanding did not work well. Last April, students at the high school called a special session on campus for students to talk about things and see what conclusions they could reach. But in doing so, they specifically excluded teachers and any other “outsiders,” so they did not have the perspective of those from different generations. The kids didn't come up with anything better than the grown-ups did.
Even forgetfulness does not help, because occasional reminders can be unnerving. One freshman at UMass Boston says that when people hear she went to high school in Cambridge they ask, “Isn’t that where the bombing guys went to school?” There is no escape from awkward reminders that do not have an answer. “Someone does something bad [and] it puts a bad image on the whole community,” she said. These reminders will have the effect of forcing Cantabrigians into withdrawal.
For City officials, a sense of helplessness prevails. Former mayor, Henrietta Davis described how a globalized world has its special problems and conflicts. “They had a whole world going on around them and it wasn’t something we could understand, control, or have an impact on.” High school principal Damon Smith claims that “What we refer to now is the new normal,” and that it is hard not to second-guess yourself. “But I’m beginning to come to peace with the idea that we have a huge impact as a school on the life of a young person,” he concluded. “There were obviously things shaping his development in ways that we didn’t see.” With the loss of trust, a loss of self-confidence is pervasive among friends, teachers and other school officials.
WHAT SHOULD CAMBRIDGE DO?
Cambridge should make no effort to compete with Boston. Instead the City should look around to see if there are issues that Boston missed. Cambridge could fill in those gaps. Boston has appealed to current strengths, but has not referred to history and how traumatic crises of the past have been addressed. In its quest to be positive, Boston has not recognized many individuals who suffered more than others and almost died, such as an MBTA officer shot on the Watertown street by friendly fire. For some of the injured, recovery will take much longer, and may never be complete.
We need to recognize the individual law enforcement officials who worked on the security videos to identify the two brothers, first by suspicious actions and then by face and name. As battle-hardened as many police officers may seen to be, there was a special trauma for a random collection of arriving police officers to be thrown together on that Watertown street and forced to confront a life-threatening situation at night, facing both bullets and bombs. It was an extremely difficult situation for all of them.
With the exception of a TV station in New Hampshire, almost all information sources have ignored the true individual hero in the capture of the two brothers. This hero is a 27-year old Chinese immigrant whose SUV was hi-jacked. He lived in fear of his life for several hours -- until that stop at the Cambridge gas station when he made a break for it and was able to get a 911 call through to police. For the first time authorities knew the location of the two brothers, and all police cars could head towards Cambridge. The SUV owner also provided information on the SUV so that it could be electronically tracked.
Thereafter the brothers were doomed. But Danny is just a pseudonym. He continues working in the Boston area and insists on his privacy. Already four people had died at the ends of the two brothers, and Danny could have been a fifth. He too became one of the victims of the savage trauma. His privacy must be respected. The best description of his story is in a Channel 9 WMUR TV report from New Hampshire. Everyone else seems to have forgotten about Danny.
Why is the location of the suspects so important? Think of the case of Whitey Bulger who was wanted by the law for decades, his name and photo were known, as were his fingerprints. Yet no one could find him until a citizen tip came in and Whitey was found in a rent-controlled apartment in California. Law enforcement officials cannot make an arrest unless they know where the suspect is. Two citizens were vital in helping locate Whitey Bulger and the two bad brothers.
Danny has said often : “I was lucky.” But we are the ones who were lucky to have him. Two Chinese immigrants are involved in the Marathon story, and both merit our respect, including BU student Lu Lingzi killed in the initial explosions. For all those at the high school who feel victimized by the immigrant brothers from Chechnya, the two Chinese immigrants should serve as models for the goodness of many of the immigrants who come to America.
Tragically, a good WBUR report on Cambridge was marred by a concluding remark that local landmarks began to take on “sinister significance,” like the “gas station where the carjacking victim jumped out and ran for his life.” The gas station was not a sinister location. It was the location of a personal break-out and a crisis breakthrough. Within minutes the police were on the trail of the SUV. That gas station was the place of crisis transformation and it was in Cambridge.
Here are some specific actions Cambridge could take :
1. Be supportive of MIT efforts to recognize Sean Collier and support the scholarship fund set up in his name. Stress that Cambridge was hurt, as well as Boston. Medford has a wonderful idea for a peace park. Have the City come up with a similar recognition.
2. At the right time, recognize the role of Danny in helping to capture the suspects. It happened in Cambridge and an immigrant helped out. But let us respect the privacy of “Danny” until the time is ripe. It may take another year or so. Think of a plaque of appreciation in the park on River Street. Support a plaque to be added so that Danny's name (when he is known) can be added to Medford's Peace Park. Install another plaque outside the high school and public library.
3. Stress the positive role played by immigrants in Boston and Cambridge. Have Cambridge researchers prepare a roster of immigrants over the past century and what they have achieved in the Boston area.
4. Learn from the example of Carl DiMaiti in setting up a scholarship fund to benefit his slain sister Carol in the aftermath of the Charles Stuart crisis. He met with residents of Mission Hill in 1990 : "I'm so happy we've been able to show people that there's another side to Mission Hill," says Carl DiMaiti. "It's a side that gets lost sometimes, and it deserves to be seen." When they met with some of the first group of scholars, Carl and his parents were almost overwhelmed. "They were so grateful," he says softly. "It made me want to say to them, 'It's not just us helping you. You're helping us too.' "  Cambridge should take the lead in defining all aspects of the healing process, even better than Boston has done so far.
5. Use Cambridge scholars to investigate bombings, gun violence, and individual killings where victims or their families learned to cope with the aftermath.
 People Magazine, October 29, 1990.