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A Long Journey to See the True (So Good!) Boston

Two bombs detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon killing 3 people and injuring at least 144. This is a personal reflection in the hours following the event from Boston-based correspondent Tom Murphy.


Boston is a mess of a city. People will talk about its great history, but it is a logistical headache to navigate on a regular basis. Highly populated areas lack proper access to the T and GPS a phone does not prevent one from getting lost.

Plus, it is home to the Boston Red Sox.

Growing up in New Jersey suburb of New York during one of the golden eras of Yankee baseball, Boston was the city that housed an also-ran team.  The Yankees kept winning. My dad and other adults kept telling me that the Red Sox were the rivals of the Yankees, but I was more worried about the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves. Those were the teams that mattered come October, not the Sox.

That all changed in the fall of 2003. The Ying Yang Twins competed with Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’ at  parties. Pedro Martinez was in his prime. Manny was – well – Manny and a new DH arrived from the Minnesota Twins with a swing perfect for peppering the Green Monster. Not that I was scared.

The upstart Sox put on a nice show for a few games, but taking it to a seventh with ace Pedro Martinez had this Yankees fan a bit less confident. Attending a New England Jesuit college proved to hostile territory for a Yankees fan. That less than significant team from up north had serious fans.

They unabashedly sang along to a Neil Diamond tune gleefully cheering, ‘So good! So good! So good!’ in support of a team that failed to win when it mattered for what was approaching a century. A lust for winning was matched with a persistent pessimism. When things went poorly for the beloved Red Sox the young fans turned sour.

“That figures,” I heard many times as friend would throw a remote after a heartbreaking loss.

20130415_121756I came to believe that the Red Sox was a fitting team for a miserable mindset. The utter lack of hope made it fitting that the team remain haunted by the sale of Babe Ruth and a ground ball that slipped between the long legs of a sure-handed first basemen in the fall of 1986.

Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecelia’ blasted from the computer speakers as we few Yankees fans sang and danced our way through each commercial break. Serious Sox fans sat glued to the television transfixed on the possibility of ending a dynasty and exorcising the demons of Ruth in on fell swoop.

For most of the game it looked to be the case, but Pedro wore out and stayed on the mound a little longer than he should have. The Yankees chipped back and an Aaron Boone walk-off blast maintained the world order when some thought it might invert.

Campus-wide drunk rioting only confirmed that Sox fans were a bitter race of people. When the team managed to come back from the brink of elimination the following year to accomplish what I hate to admit was the greatest comeback in Baseball history, I came to loathe the Red Sox and their home city of Boston.

Wild celebrations that led to the unfortunate death of a female student only confirmed my dislike for Red Sox fans.

Upon graduation I did my best to avoid Boston. I knew I had to eventually live here and fulfill the opposite of Good Will Hunting to see about a girl in Boston. I succeeded for five years starting in New Haven, a short spell back in Jersey, Kenya and Philadelphia.

Alas, I had to come to Boston. Home of the Red Sox, poor city planning, cold winters, Massholes and my future wife. There was no avoiding it.

I looked for places to live outside of the city. The scene in Cambridge and Somerville is more to my liking and it is a heck of a lot cheaper. So I settled in last winter in the midst of an unusually warm season. The reluctant Bostonian came to town. People asked what I thought and if I liked it here. I made pained faces and spoke about how much I missed Philadelphia.

A lot of my friends live here, it is just about what made being up her bearable. Wanting to do international development reporting, Boston is a decent city, but it is not New York or Washington DC. Growing up so close to New York ruined me to other cities. Boston felt small and kitschy compared to the grandeur of New York City.


Last year I watched the marathon from Coolidge Corner. Just a little more than a mile from Fenway Park I tried to hide under the shade on the typical April weather of 87 degrees. For people who are not from New England, that is a typical day because all bets are off for the Spring here. It can snow as easily as it can be oppressively hot. Usually, Spring in Boston is just wet, windy and cold with enough beautiful days to provide a glimmer of hope, a perfect match for the Red Sox (well, before they won two World Series titles).


Though you cannot take off work to perform the civic duty of voting, the state of Massachusetts provides Patriot’s Day off to its citizens. The Red Sox play a super early game and thousands attempt to traverse the rolling hills of Wellesley and Newton to complete a 26.2 mile road race.

Coolidge Corner is a rather brutal point. Runners are only 2 miles from the end and they are cruising downhill, but the previous hills took their toll. Heartbreak Hill gets the attention, but it is the culmination of the hills that lead up to that point which make the course so hard.

Runners trudge on with the hope that the race ends in the next few steps. Some are so delirious that they wander off in to the crowd. People yell, lining the streets with the hope that they can provide a boost for the competitors. It is awful to watch the racers.

When friends invited us out to Natick to watch the race at mile 10 we went with it. What a difference.

The racers entered Natick to the loud music of a DJ in front of the Morse Tavern. The tunes were aimed to pump up the crowd and runners and boy did they ever. South Korean runners danced along to Psy’s Gangam Style when it played through the set-up speakers. YMCA turned out to be a favorite as smiling runners paused from the persistent pumping of their arms to raise them high above making a human letter Y.

Then there was that Neil Diamond song. That song that is so connected to the team I always hated. I admit I softened on the song over time, but seeing the racers beam as the volume turned down, “Ba! Ba! Ba!” felt right. The sad-sack Bostonians were cheerful at a time when they had completed less than half of a four hour ordeal for most people.


Women’s lead pack

News of the blasts came and we watched the new to see the latest reports. Family and friends sent text messages and phone calls were made with reassurances of safety. Everyone shared the good news when someone was determined to be safe and a collective effort to process what happened was underway.

The outpouring of support for Boston felt distant. People who live all over the US and even around the world shared their sympathies and support for the people living in the city. It reminded me of the feeling when seeing Americans waving flags after 9/11. I couldn’t understand how someone could feel so connected to something that happened thousands of miles away. How can someone understand what it is like to see the smoke from the towers from your High School building? Or the feeling of concern because your father works in the city and had a meeting out of his office that morning? Or going to one of the funerals for a lost family friend?

It felt real to be a part of it and the community when directly affected. But the truth is that it is universal. That is precisely why it feels so personal. It is why people were so moved following the Newtown shootings.

Great tragedy strikes something within us that resonates on a personal level. It is why many Americans probably watched closely as mixed information poured in following the two explosions.

My initial thought was to remember only a few hours ago when runners were singing and dancing along. The bombing was the cruelest act of bad things happening to this city. Fleeting moments of good feelings ended so swiftly to dampen one of the few things that the city holds onto with pride.

I was wrong. I always looked for the negative side of things when it came to Boston. This time, it was hard to miss the best parts.


Thousands of Boston residents responded to the runners and families displaced by the bombings by opening their doors. In a time when we protect our personal information a Google Document circulated with names, addresses, phone numbers and information so that people can reach out and find a place to stay for the night or hang out for the time being.

There are already stories of the people who responded in the immediate aftermath of the blasts. With horrific injuries and lost limbs people of all stripes took action by stemming the bleeding and performing CPR.

Runners doing the YMCA

Friends who are city doctors sprinted from the race to their hospitals to get to work as the wounded came in. Runners who completed one of the hardest things a human can do, a race that hearkens back to Greece and a messenger who died after covering the distance, donated blood to help the people harmed by the blast.

Boston is a city filled with great people. It took an unfortunate event to show me that I was wrong. As people, we are capable of terrible things, but better equipped at doing good. The simple detonation of bombs caused great harm and shone a light on this city’s great people.


Keeping track of international news from a distance requires quite a bit of reading. My mornings start with me rolling out of bed and checking out the latest news developments through my favorite news sites, RSS feeds and Twitter. Each morning is filled with some bad news.

Sunday, there was an attack in the court complex in Mogadishu, Somalia. At least 29 people died. Yesterday morning started with news of pre-election bombings across Iraq that killed 42 people and injured over 250.

There were other attacks in places beset by violence like the Central African Republic, Darfur and Syria over the past few days. Just to name a few.

Each news story garnered a quick glance to determine the humanitarian impact. When it comes to determining what news may be worth Tweeting or including in my daily news clips for DAWNS Digest I have to figure out which stories matter more than others. Recently, I emailed my DAWNS co-founder Mark that we need to be more deliberate about which attack stories make it into the morning digest.

Attacks alone were not newsworthy.

Physical distance provides the necessary disconnect to see the report of an armed attack on people in city in the Horn of Africa as a series of numbers. Because it is not surprising to hear of attacks in countries that are best by conflict, it becomes all to easy to see the news stories as mere words on the page as opposed to lives affected.

Let today be the day that a tragedy not only draws us closer to each other, but closer to the parts of the world where atrocities are committed.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]