Thanks to Rod Dreher, there have been several discussions about finding and making a community lately; a theme that resonates a lot when the city I’ve come to love and reluctantly called home is attacked. I don’t know that I ever wanted to admit my love of this hard region, with the constant winters, the people and their famously laconic social skills, and the lack of real mountains. However, reading Dreher’s work and reflecting on how much New England has adopted me has certainly been a time of reflection and thus it’s overdue for some praise to my community.
Boston has a strange draw for us Lichens boys. I can recall being eight-years-old and being moved to tears that my oldest brother decided to leave Oregon for Boston. “Boston,” I thought, “Where is that and why would he want to leave?” Bob had just moved back in with the family and now needed a change; he needed to get as far away from Oregon’s spirit and geography as he could, and New England is as much a foreign nation to a kid from Cascadia as much as any other place. It seemed so weird to me, but I ended up following in his footsteps a good fourteen years later and would return to this region after my departure from grad school. Like Bob, I too needed to get out of Oregon but I never imagine that I’d feel the same affection that he did for this place.
My first impression of Boston was that it is an old city, carved by Puritans in a hostile place and refined by the toughest people I’ve ever encountered. New Englanders can come off as rude, with a huge chip on their shoulder. It can be mistaken as rudeness, but it is only their odd way of loving. They protect their hamlets, towns, neighborhoods, and cities much like the hero of The Napoleon of Notting Hill. A boy growing up in East Boston or Bow, NH is likely to see their simple land as citadel worth protecting and loving. In fact, these last few days of carnage have reminded me that New England can teach the whole nations one simple truth: that a place is loved not because it is great but that its greatness is but a reflection of the love the people have poured out on it.
I may have been initially put off by the people, but I truly do love this region. Her old forests, colonial towns, and ages of folklore produce stories of ghosts, romance, and adventure and very often these same stories happen in the same few square miles. If you go to one town of a few hundred people you can plop down in a pub and feel the many ages of hopes and dreams that were poured out for generations even if not a single person will engage you in small talk. This is, after all, the soil which was tilled by the Sons of Liberty that helped plant the seeds for our many great poets and novelists.
“There are two ways of getting home,” Chesterton wrote, “and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” Chesterton was talking about seeing the familiar things made new, as if you found a new joy and adventure by gazing at the same hill you’ve walked one thousand times before. As I look at the videos of the Marathon Bombings I see the unspeakable horror of what a coward will do to maim and harm other but I also see the much overlooked simple kindness of people running back to offer aid and help to their fallen friends. Even in a place renowned for its less-than-friendly demeanor there is still enough good in people that they will help when all common sense would say to run.
Boston and all of New England have so much beauty but it takes a second look before one can see it again. Here is my hope that I don’t forget the joys that this adopted land of mine teaches me.