Sadly, just a few weeks ago, and well under 3000 miles away, our brothers and sisters in Boston suffered a horrific attack in the heart of the city during their beloved Patriots’ Day. I was at work when I heard of the attacks and immediately my heart broke. How ironic, a terrorist attack on Patriots’ Day. Boston marathon = Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts. “What day?” my cube-mate Matt asks. “”Patriots’ Day”, I said.
Some 17 years ago, when I migrated to Massachusetts to attend college, I learned of this locally celebrated Spring holiday, Patriots' Day, the third Monday in April, observed only in the Bay State and Maine (?) to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord and the start of the Revolutionary War. Northampton public schools and UMass Amherst shut down in observance of the holiday, but as a private college, Smith was open for business. Emigrating from the Empire State only some 200 miles away, I was curious as to what this local holiday was about. Some staff at school were big Patriots’ Day celebrants, and it’s a big deal in Boston, but as a transplant, I could only appreciate this holiday from arm’s length.
I never really paid any mind to Patriots’ Day after I left college, until this year. Four years at college and now, with these attacks, Patriots’ Day has caught my attention again for a total of Five Aprils. Though the September 11th attacks have seemed to have (unofficially?) created a new Patriot’s Day holiday, until this year, the events of 9/11/01 and the commemoration of Lexington and Concord were Patriots’ Days of different sorts. April’s Patriots’ Day has been a celebration of independence and freedoms from an old, remote regime. Patriot’s Day of September is much more of a somber day of reflection, attention to a still-open wound, a reminder of current-day terrorism and organized sneak-attacks on civilians in public purview. April of 1775 was a preview to an outright declaration of war following a declaration of independence. September of 2001 took out people who were just on their way to work.
Unlike the Revolutionary War, where our enemy (who is now our Ally) sent us correspondence in advance that they were coming to attack us and were easily identifiable in their bright red coats amongst our leafy-green deciduous forests, the modern terrorist attacks we face are somewhat face-less, country-less and blend in with society, to some extent. They attack when we don’t expect, at a celebratory finish line or on a cloudless Tuesday morning, they take advantage of our open society, our asylum and public funding. Then something happens like the April 15th bombings in Boston and you realize you live amongst certified whack-jobs. I’m not speaking categorically about ‘foreigners’ or ‘Muslims’ I am talking about Whack-jobs, who transcend all demographic boundaries and are really just extremist haters. America has grown its own Whack-jobs (Timothy McVeigh, anyone?), it’s not an issue of background, it’s an issue of hater-ism. My boss is a Bengali Muslim who moved to the Lower East Side as a child. He’s a good Accountant, he’s a good father to his three kids, he is NOT a Whack-job. When I was in London, in the home country of our Revolutionary War enemy, I got a whole bunch of razzing during July 4th, but come September 11th 2001, those Brits were kind and caring to me. They were generous with their hugs and I even got a few rides home from work. The attacks on Boston brought back raw and painful memories to those of us in the Empire State, and sadly, just a few days ago the landing gear of one of the 9/11 aircraft was found wedged in between two buildings a few blocks away from the site of the original World Trade Center towers. This is a reminder of an event we cannot put behind us because it is not behind us.
We need to develop our hater-radar. Not racial profiling, not ethnic sorting, haters come in all shapes and sizes, colors and flags. Today, on my way home from work, two uniformed MTA police and a police dog were at the Seventh Borough train station. That set me on edge. Police and dogs in the subway, ok, but at a commuter station on the outbound platform? We all have to be diligent, and keep in mind that the hater loves to take advantage of our senses of security and normalcy. The ultimate antidote to haters is that when something horrible happens, the non-haters in society pull together and take care of each other. That kind of power will always triumph. The good side always wins.
Across Five Aprils is the title of a novel by Irene Hunt that I was supposed to read in grade school. I guess I read some or maybe even all of it, because I still remember the book, although I thought it was about the Revolutionary War, and upon further research I realize I was wrong. It takes place during the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, as some people refer to it). The gist of the story line is that an extended family is split as some members fight for the Union army and some fight for the Confederacy. My Civil War history has been recently refreshed by watching this year’s Academy Award winning film, Lincoln, and watching all of Gone With The Wind, in fits and spurts, during maternity leave last spring. Abraham Lincoln and Scarlett O’Hara were out-of-the-box thinkers. They made the most of adverse situation, they never gave in to their haters; they persevered. Though I think Scarlett could have benefited from couples therapy and Abe could have used some Kevlar, that kind of power will always triumph. The good side always wins.