Thinking about Boston

Hi All. Barb here.

I was supposed to write today about the magical library that most influenced my childhood and still informs my writing today. But I find I just can’t. I promise I will soon.

I need to write about Boston.

Many of you know that though I live in Boothbay Harbor in the summer, I spend the rest of the year in Somerville, MA. I’ve lived in the Boston area since I was twenty-three. (No need to do the math.) I’ve been to dozens of Boston Marathons, watching from different vantage points–the start at Hopkington, Framingham and most often on Heartbreak Hill, which is just a short distance from the home where my husband and I brought up our children.

Patriots’ Day (or bizarrely Patriot’s Day–depending on which state you’re in) is one of the things Massachusetts and Maine have in common, based on our shared history as a single colony. It’s a happy day, the gateway to spring, even in those years when the weather says, “not quite yet.” I actually included warm memories of Patriot’s Day for my main character in my upcoming book Clammed Up. It’s already gone to galleys and I keep thinking I should write to my publisher and say, “Well, I guess I don’t need to explain what Patriot’s Day is anymore.”

After 9/11, it was impossible to find someone in the northeast corridor of the United State who hadn’t been touched in some very personal, two degrees of separation kind of way. Of course, two of the planes came from Boston. But I had a business friend who lost a brother in one of the towers. And a close friend who’s daughters walked from their high school a few blocks from Ground Zero all the way home to the Bronx. And on and on, like that.

Boston is really a big small town. I have a friend who used to say, “There were only 500 people in Boston and the rest is done with mirrors.” And certainly there are days as you move through the overlapping circles that are the technology, medical, academic, arts and finance worlds in Boston, it feels that way.

My daughter was at the marathon cheering on a friend who’d been overjoyed to get a number just two weeks before when someone had to drop off a charity team. My daughter wasn’t at the finish. But of course, we didn’t know that at the time. In these days of instant communication one of the group she was in got a text from someone about the explosion, and they were able to reach their running friend and get her off the course at Mass Ave before the race was even stopped. Why did she have her phone, I wondered. Because she runs to music. They picked her up in Cambridge and reunited her with her family.

I have two friends who’ve turned over video and been interviewed by the FBI. My husband has a friend who’s wife is still in the hospital, though it appears she’ll make a full recovery.

Here’s what I keep thinking about. There are places in the world where these sorts of things happen every day. Places that are even smaller, where everyone knows someone directly affected. Every time.

How do they do it?

But then I think about resilience. Which is one of those most human of characteristics. We’re probably the only animals who can anticipate bad things on more than an instinctive level. The only animals who experience dread. And who can revisit bad events once they’ve happened. And yet, we go on. After natural disasters, wars, plagues, untold human suffering, we go on. Even after genocides, the scattered survivors and their descendents go on.

Sometimes in quiet moments at my desk (when I should be writing), I wonder about evolution. What is the value of the universal human love of music? Or our need for story-telling? Why does the smell of a wood fire make us smile? Why does almost every human who walks out and looks up at the sky on a clear, starry night experience joy?

I think perhaps it’s to do with resilience. Our big brains let us understand that awful things are going to happen, but they also make it almost always worthwhile to go on.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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11 Responses to Thinking about Boston

  1. Deanna says:

    One of these cowards is still on the loose as I type. Dee

  2. Barb Ross says:

    I wrote this yesterday. Have been up most of the night. Our family in Watertown is safe. A writer friend’s street here in my town has just been evacuated. It feels like a movie–a very, very long movie.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Bob & I have been up all night, too — and thinking of you & Bill and your family in Watertown. Glad to know they’re all right. Such a nightmare. And, too, my mind keeps going to the question: what made two immigrant boys turn to violence? I hope we’ll learn. And, as we’re still listening to the TV coverage, I hope, with the rest of the world, that the violence will end soon.

  4. Wonderful post, Barb. So glad your family is all right. The time of not knowing runs so long. I get that you couldn’t write about the library. I was going to write yesterday about walking in the mall, but I couldn’t. This week has too many reminders of other events. I you have time check out my post Live in the Moment.
    I find it absolutely amazing the FBI was able to ID the young men. Shades of the TV show Person of Interest. The news plays in the background as I work. Praying that the lockdown doesn’t go on much longer.

  5. Janet Reid says:

    There’s a wonderful picture of people in Syria, who DO experience this kind of thing every day, holding up a sign sending condolences to the people of Boston.

    I’m glad you’re safe.

  6. Lil Gluckstern says:

    Very moving post, and very thoughtful. it seems that humans have always made stories. I’m glad your family and friends are safe.

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