One image from the Boston Marathon bombings, played repeatedly on the TV, stays: you can't tell if it’s from exhaustion or the hit from the debris of the bomb but the runner, looks like an older man, determined to finish, just steps away from the finish line, keels over on his knees and tumbles on the asphalt. That man was about to finish a grueling four hour run that he had trained for a long time to accomplish who would want to kill him at the finish line? Why not earlier in the race? To cause the most damage! In terrorist acts collateral damage is the goal from the outset. That’s what makes it more evil that the worst military attacks. Its object, civilians, women and children is what armies at least try to avoid! Oh, the sheer insanity of terrorism! Like others I ask myself, who would bomb the Boston Marathon? That event that brings together so many from all over the world to run a grueling race that takes years of training and dedication is even more neutral and apolitical than the Olympics!
When you have fled a dangerous place in order to thrive in a peaceful setting you get doubly upset when this sort of thing happens. Even though I know my kids, friends and family are safe, I am incredibly angry and sad today.
Could it be I love Boston so much? It is where I spent my best years, where I read all those important books, where I learned to be a free thinking woman, and where I sent my kids to study hoping its culture would make them better people. It is the place the world goes to seep in what is best about American culture: that Yankee sense of fairness, that open armed embrace of the curious, talented, and dedicated.
I remember the first time I witnessed how, in a classroom during the final exam, emptied of the professor and monitors, no one cheated! It was downright shocking and incredibly uplifting. That was the first of many acts of fairness that I encountered in Boston.
Diversity existed in Boston before it became a fashionable term everywhere else. I remember learning about Islamic theology from a man named Herb and Molana’s poetry from an Anne Marie; I remember listening to a Bahai sing the praise of an Ayatollah and analyze him better than any talabeh from Qom. I studied with a German the Italian Renaissance and a Californian taught me about the French Revolution. I studied the Greek philosophers with a young professor, my adviser, who stood for hours at the intersection on Mass Ave., and Nietzsche with a Turkish woman who intimidated the hell out of me.
I took my first women studies class at Boston University, and as if a light went on in my head, everything I had felt as a girl, on that soccer pitch growing up in Iran, made perfect sense. From then on I saw history, current events and my own life from a feminist point of view rather than the blurred and confused image of a patriarchal lens. I came home and threw away the scale after one of the lectures. In Boston I became a woman.
In Boston I took my first job. Working for Ellie Cohen at the Chestnut Hill mall I learned that if you pronounce the cheese and wine names correctly in French you have an advantage in America. They just love all that is French. I also learned that if you are too nice you get paid less than the other employees. Not at Café Algiers where I got the job because I was an Iranian student during the hostage crises not despite it! The owner, who loved us because we were Iranian, was a Palestinian who hung a poster of Ayatollah Khomeini in his office and argued with us spoiled, exiled Iranians about the cleric’s merits.
In Boston I was given a chance by a professor, who was too busy publishing to teach, to give my first lecture to a class of more than one hundred students. I learned that day the joy of teaching and holding an audience captive with the story of what happened a thousand years ago. It was like being able to peddle forward on a bike, for the first time, after the person holding your seat has let it go—sheer elation. I remember being extremely grateful for getting a fellowship from people who could not pronounce my name when those with whom I grew up cheated and stole from me in the Iranian revolution.
They taught me, those wonderful men and women, those professors in Boston when I was going to college, to think fairly and work hard. But more than anything those incredible ostads, those benevolent teachers, taught me the importance of humility-- of having students call you Bruce even when you have won the Pulitzer. Boston is not a single event nor even a place, Boston is this goodness, this fairness that has traveled far, fleeing tyranny and arrogance, to come to these shores to breathe free—you can’t bomb it.