13 September 2013
To say that I love Boston is an understatement. The sights, sounds, smells, and the people most of all have captured my heart. I couldn't help but laugh when I read Jill McDonough's account of an accident on Mass Ave because the truth is that I have witnessed accidents almost identical to the one she describes (and even been in one.) I'd never really given much thought to the fact that we Bostonians react in such a similar way to every accident, but I guess it only makes sense that a city so steeped in tradition would have developed its own protocol for fender benders. What most people don't understand--and I didn't understand until I was sixteen--is that these people are not acting out of anger. Bostonians aren't driving around in a fit of rage just looking for a reason to explode. No, these are fearful actions. It is fear for her life, and, once the initial shock has cleared, fear of the headache that would come with an accident report or expensive damage that causes Jill to react with such anger.
When I was sixteen I took a job as a volunteer at a Back Bay soup kitchen. (For those of you unfamiliar with Boston's geography, the Back Bay is essentially Boston's answer to Manhattan.) I remember it all feeling very secretive and exclusive; I was not allowed to reveal the kitchen's location to anyone of the opposite sex and even some difficulty finding it myself since it was hidden in a church basement alongside some of the most upscale shops that Boston has to offer. I was probably the most unprepared volunteer they had ever seen, and I soon found myself working harder than I had in quite a long time. It was hot. It was cramped. Things would routinely go wrong. And it smelled. I was miserable for the first two hours of my shift, and in all honesty I really, really, wanted a nap.
It was then that I saw him. A man had somehow walked down into the mess hall and was approaching the women menacingly. I could smell the alcohol on his breath and see the dirt on his skin. My blood ran cold just as the women jumped up. Fierce determination flashed across their faces as they formed a wall in front of the man and looked at him as if to say, "Just try and take one step further." Silence filled the hall, and I could have sworn that everyone had stopped breathing because I was afraid to break the silence with my own terrified breaths. We'd been told that some of these women were on the run from dangerous, abusive husbands and boyfriends. A woman whom I'd spoken too earlier and found to be one of the sweetest of all the ladies suddenly stepped forward. She spoke as if she had somehow absorbed the rage of all her sisters--in that moment they were bonded that strongly--and used some fairly colorful language to tell him in no uncertain terms that he could leave now or stay and wait for the police. The man lingered for mere moments before giving up and walking back up the old stone staircase.
Rose--I learned later that that was the woman's name--all but collapsed when the door closed behind our intruder and it was as if a thick wool blanket had been lifted off of us all. For me it was as if my eyes had finally been opened. I saw past the grim attitudes and angry words of these women. I saw that they were all just a little bit scared, a little bit tired, and a whole lot stronger than I could ever have imagined.
Jill's writings are reminiscent of this experience, and an to me they serve as a reminder of everything that makes me proud to be a Bostonian. We are a strange people, a loud people, and occasionally a publicly intoxicated people We are also some of the strongest, most resilient, and bravest people this world has to offer. So the next time you see a Bostonian get out of her car and yell after getting into a minor accident, remember that it's because she is strong enough to face her fears and fight fire with fire.