My best friend lives in Boston. We've been friends for over twenty-five years. We text or talk almost every day. We happened to be texting on Tuesday, just at the moment that local news was breaking on her end. Martha, three-thousand miles away. I had been out walking around the neighborhood with Amelia. We walk very slowly, up and down the sleepy, quiet blocks, ambling to and fro. I pick blossoms from trees, a sprig of rosemary, a froth of blooming lilac that somehow fell into the grass for her to sniff. This is an English daisy. This is a daff-o-dil. This is violet, like your kitty you never met, like your great-grandma's favorite flower, and oh how she would have loved you! The sun dips and bobs in and out of white clouds. The April wind is still chilly. Amelia stares placidly out at the world as it rolls by. These are the houses and gardens and bakeries and shops and driveways and trees and sidewalks that will become — that are already starting to become — her little corner of the world. Our streets. Will be there a memory, locked away, of the scent of apple blossoms there? Of how we linger every time in front of the big sepia-colored wooden house I've always liked while I study their tulips? Of the smell of the spicy tea that I drink as we walk? Of the canopy of ancient dogwood trees, arching above her in pink arcade just as we approach our own driveway, and turn? Will she know her trees the way I knew my own, the way I feel I would still know them, the way I did know them even two summers ago when I visited Forest Avenue, alone, for a whole afternoon. I walked, tearful for my own reasons, up then down the other side of my street; two oaks towered over my house, planted much too close to the front stairs, still there, familiar as nothing else I've known. The king and queen of my former kingdom. Protective lion, lioness.
My neighbor brings me hot chocolate and a coffee-cake slice every couple of mornings or so, while Amelia naps. Every time, it feels like the most perfect, decadent, luxurious gift. I think about this small kindness, the millions of generous, civilized kindnesses that make up most of all of our days, and then the rare but terrible rendings that rip the weave of them so viciously, and with such terrible permanence. The spectre ebbs and fades but is always present. As a child, I grew up with a father who, upon entering any public venue, scanned the place for exits, identified each one, and briefed us on the disaster plan should this performance of Timbuktu or the Ice Capades be fireballed. I will just say that it was a very hard way to grow up. But it comes from this: You would do anything, anything to try to protect your child.
My heart and thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston this week. With those lost, and those injured, and those helping, and those witnessing. I wish that Martha and I lived closer, were neighbors, wish that together we were walking our little girls under the blossoming branches, teaching them (Martha used to be a landscape architect) the names of flowers. Teaching them to be kind and gentle people. Teaching them to be brave, generous, building, healing people. People who make things, and don't destroy them. People who reject cynicism, and instead create, and repair, and provide medicine. People who practice peace, acceptance, optimism, faith, joy, and, always. Always: Love.