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Marathon Aftermath: Reflections of a Former Boston Resident

Jim Hastings

Written by
Published: May 1, 2013 at 3:28 PM [UTC]

"I've decided not to return to Boston -- at least for now."

These are the very words I wrote, though only in my mind, months ago -- well before this year's bombing at the Boston Marathon. So far, I haven't actually delivered the message, either verbally or by e-mail, to my sister and brother-in-law in New York State. But I will -- the next time they ask when I plan to make a trip to the East.

After leaving Boston in 2001, following 17½ years there in two stretches, I kept going back to visit my adopted city each year through 2008. In 2009, I wanted to go back again but had higher-priority items in the budget right here at home. Now, the longer I stay away, the easier it gets to keep staying away.

My family's connections with Boston go back to 1634 -- the year my expatriate British forbears settled at Watertown, MA, the town where the manhunt for Suspect 2 in the bombing ended on April 19.

Though I did some violin practice the evening of the 19th, the session was a little chopped up. I don't ordinarily watch TV news, preferring radio and Internet updates instead; but this time, I stayed in front of the TV for the last 60-90 minutes before authorities had the suspect in custody.

Musical Reflections
Since the tragedy of April 15, I've re-lived many memories of my years in Boston. Most of these are happy, a lot of them connected with music: playing unaccompanied violin in the vacant second-floor ballroom of my friends' brownstone -- a room with superior acoustics; small chamber music sessions with other friends; visiting Symphony Hall; listening to some first-rate classical radio stations.

This is also the town where I got my first breaks as a freelance photographer and freelance op-ed writer. And it's a great walking town. In all my years there, I walked and biked everywhere I needed to go within the city limits. Driving was something I did weekends and occasional evenings to get out to the countryside.

1981 Marathon Photos
News of the bombing really hit a nerve with me -- I've walked many times right past what is now ground zero on Boylston Street. As a first-year resident, not long after finishing school, I spent about 2 hours photographing the 1981 Marathon. Kodak was still producing its classic K-25 and K-64 slide film emulsions, which I used to capture shots of Toshihiko Seko, Craig Virgin, and Billy Rodgers -- the men's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. I made these shots near the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Hereford Street before threading my way through the crowd to the finish line on Boylston.

I haven't digitized the Marathon slides yet; otherwise, I'd gladly upload one or two here. For now, check out this link -- see the two b/w photos on the top row -- Rodgers and Seko: Images for 1981 Boston Marathon.

Grief and Adjustment
Probably most of us will survive our parents. I did; my parents died within a year and a half of each other in the early 1990s. Becoming an adult "orphan" is part of the natural, expected order. Still, it's an adjustment. But when a child or young adult dies -- especially in a catastrophe, with no time to say goodbye -- this is so out of the natural, expected order. The grief and adjustment for the surviving parents must be beyond description.

Sorting Things Out
Part of me really wants to see Boston again. Another part of me says: "That's in the past now. Leave it there. Save your wallet and just hold on to the good memories -- and your photo collection."

No need to reach a decision this moment. For now, violin practicing and playing will go on here and help me sort these things out. Just as music helped me get through the typical ups and downs of childhood, it's great therapy now. I don't doubt many Bostonians share my sentiments.


From Christina C.
Posted on May 1, 2013 at 5:50 PM
I love Boston. As an amateur musician and chamber music freak, it's a stupendous place to be as there's a huge amount of both amateur and pro music going on.
From marjory lange
Posted on May 1, 2013 at 7:32 PM
A poignant blog.

I have 3 thoughts (based on a similar relationship with NY):

--You reached your decision before the bombing: this is good, because everyone who gives up something because of any act of terror yields that much to the terrorists. Sometimes it's necessary.

--The Boston you remember will always be in your heart.

--The Boston there now is, to some extent, a new place. Cities change as much as, and sometimes faster than, people. Imagine meeting the people important to you after as many years as you have been away--new world possible.

No need to ever make it an absolute decision; "for now..." is a good length of time to live in.


From Jim Hastings
Posted on May 3, 2013 at 3:50 PM
"The Boston you remember will always be in your heart."

So true. Thank you for making this point. The Boston I knew is something I can take with me. I'm confident that this unique city will emerge stronger beyond this tragedy.

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