Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Personal Column: Staying Strong With Boston, The Head Of The New England Family

Three years ago, in an act of mild tough love, Boston tugged me out of my comfort zone. I let that fact sink in when Amtrak carried my back to that sector of normalcy in Providence.

I was a senior at Providence College and serving as the Women’s Hockey East columnist for Beyond The Dashers. I had just spent three nights at the Hotel Commonwealth — a convenient Green Line ride away from Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena, where I was covering the 2011 WHEA playoffs.

The Monday morning after the ice chips settled, I hopped on a subway congested with BU students and retraced the rails to PC. Shortly after departing South Station, I scanned the skyline and reflected on this revolutionary weekend in my life.

“I could definitely live here,” I whispered to myself, confirming a long-standing notion with the help of authentic experience.

I still feel that way today, even as someone who has not lived in decidedly urban environments for much of my life. I feel that way as someone who will always specify himself as a Rhode Islander and someone who has spent more time away from New England than he wishes.

Love conquers fear. That was how I was able to enjoy my extended stay in the Hub more than survive it. That was how I emerged all but craving more of the same.

Based on the buildup to next week’s Boston Marathon, it appears my approach is an acquired one. It is a psychological strength embedded in a city that has a unique sphere of influence around six states.

Spend enough time anywhere in New England, and you should grow to relate. If Boston does not first bring you over in person a la a revered relative, it will start by gripping your attention from afar. It has too much in its storeroom not to find something for you.

Boston’s size, location and history make it a natural nucleus for an extended geographic family. While they have enough separation to facilitate individual traits, the citizens of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine also have their times and spaces to acknowledge the connection.

That was why, during my early childhood in Portsmouth, R.I., family outings took place in the capital of Massachusetts almost as often as our own state capital. It did not matter if we went to a sporting event, a museum, a theater or a shopping center.

It is why the MBTA elongates its rails to serve the needs of business and leisure travelers beyond the 617 area code.

It was why, late in the summer of 2007, my orientation week at Providence College culminated in a sightseeing day trip to Boston.

It is why a regional comedian like Steve Sweeney can elicit a genuine chuckle from an Ocean Stater like me.

It is why, for the last couple of Christmas seasons, I have gorged on online listens to the Boston-based WODS, where one of the interstitials sings, “The holiday feeling, the Christmas spirit, you can feel it, all over New England…”

It is why I grew up rooting for teams like the Red Sox and Bruins. The latter’s Spoked-B logo might as well symbolize the club’s fandom fever spreading across Massachusetts and each state on its southern and northern borders.

Both of the market’s sports channels accentuate that reach by answering to the names “New England Sports Network” and “Comcast Sportsnet New England” when counterparts elsewhere tend to go for the city or state dateline.

And it is why, on this date last year, I felt an unshakable chill during the day and evening of tragedy and turmoil. But it was also why I later felt no surprise, but an equally potent injection of inspiration, watching the city’s resilience.

Again, love conquers fear. By all accounts, the former emotion won the clash for sole possession of incumbent Bostonians’ and New Englanders’ hearts.

Natural-born and naturalized New Englanders will remember Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell and Sean Collier for one common thread or another. They variously enjoyed the same services, opportunities, attractions and abstract amenities of Boston, Greater Boston and New England that we do.

They were among the region’s sports fans, students, customers and neighbors. So are those who remain in the community and continue to honor the memories of four fallen friends.

Ditto those who are rebuilding their lives a year after sustaining physical wounds. Ditto the public safety personnel whose dauntless deeds outdo what the dictionary and thesaurus allot.

Those groups are unmistakably poised to unite again on the next Marathon Monday: April 21, 2014. It will be the 118th day of its kind, and it will reveal more of the same familial elements than its predecessors may have.

Boston, its citizens, its New England-born relatives, its adopted New England relatives and extended global guests will convene again. They will pursue the same recreation and atmosphere and appreciate the diligence and dedication of the local public safety officials.

In turn, they will continue the same remembrances of those who will not be joining in those activities this time. They will enter the Marathon spotlight to punctuate the active commemorations that have defined the past 365 days.

Love of those taken too soon and the shared fondness for the city between the remembered and the remembering will keep conquering fear. This time, though, it will happen on a platform that will punctuate the phrase “Boston Strong.”

It will be an exercise in everything that, when properly absorbed, Boston instills to its extended family. This Rhode Islander could not be prouder to have a piece of that New England lineage. 

Videos from the WPRI and clutch1278 YouTube channels