Feelings remain strong one year on

Posted: 15th April 2014 by Keith MacKenzie in bombs, boston marathon, culture
A woman holds back her emotions while visiting a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street several blocks east of the bombing sites in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday, April 18, 2013. (KEITH MACKENZIE PHOTO)

A woman holds back her emotions while visiting a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street several blocks east of the bombing sites in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday, April 18, 2013. (KEITH MACKENZIE PHOTO)

It’s kind of amazing how fast the time goes by. It doesn’t even feel like one full year has passed since the Boston Marathon bombings that rocked the United States and particularly the Boston area.

It rocked my family too, us being somewhat close to the incident and – true to the spirit of six degrees of separation – knowing so many people who were so close to what happened.

I would go into a long diatribe about how it all unfolded, but rather, I’ll tell you this. I learned about it via text message at home from my wife, and this after a beautiful walk with our two-year-old boy to nearby Winchester, about a 25-minute walk from home.

There, we languished around next to a pond with geese all around us, and I found a bright red feather in the grass. I’ve heard that finding a feather is something about a good omen or a sign of things to come, so I picked that feather up, admired the deep red colours, and pocketed it. It’s still somewhere in our home. I was well aware that the Boston Marathon was underway, but because it was just me and our son, and because my wife wasn’t too keen on us going to town during one of the most crowded days of the year, I figured it’s best to stay close to home and simply watch a bit of the marathon via Internet feed.

We came home, I put the boy down for a nap, and I turned on the computer to watch a local TV journo chasing down various marathoners on Heartbreak Hill – the toughest incline of the entire race – to gauge their feelings about finishing the marathon. This was well before anything happened. I watched this for awhile, quickly lost interest and went back to just hanging out in the home.

And then the text came. “Did you hear about the bombs?” or something to that effect. Quickly, I went on Facebook, which was suddenly filled with gory aerial photos of the sidewalk with what looked like red paint splashed all over the place. It was somewhat of a surreal chaos. I had some difficulty taking it all in. There was a lot of anger and disbelief. You can read about a lot of what I was feeling in this blog post I wrote the day following.

I’ve been through some pretty strange coincidences in my lifetime. I had just moved to London and was a 20-minute walk from Kensington Palace when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. I was on an airplane from Budapest to Kiev when the twin towers fell. And now, I’m in the Boston area and suddenly, bombs. OK, but how do you appropriately respond to this?

In retrospect, the response was wide, varied and very much erratic. That’s to be expected. After all, one second you’re just hanging out at a large-scale community event or watching it on TV or something or other, and the next second, it’s a war zone where three have been killed and hundreds maimed to the tune of lost limbs.

Boston Strong was the main slogan that came out of all this. It was two students who jumped on their computer and launched the “Boston Strong” T-shirt just two hours after the bombings, thinking they’d probably sell about 100 of these shirts that week.

They sold 37,000 instead. And now they’re up to 66,000.

Granted, as that article mentions, they donated 100% of the proceeds to charity. Nevertheless, people are getting a little bit of “Boston Strong” fatigue one year after the fact. They’re tired of hearing it. A scan on Reddit reveals many voices:

BigJ32001: A year after?? Try a couple weeks. I’m pretty sure everybody got sick of it quick. No disrespect to the victims of course, but my god did this get milked.


ElBomberoLoco: Unfortunately, that’s the nature of things. Remember the 9/11 Collector’s Edition coins put out? If you spent any time in New York City not long after….every souvenir shop was selling FDNY & NYPD caps & t-shirts.

Here in New Jersey…we had “Stronger Than The Storm” and “Restore the Shore” shit being sold everywhere after Sandy….much of it coming from dubious sources.

People have no shame when it comes to making a buck…and they prey on the good intentions of the unsuspecting.

But others gave the slogan its time of day:

ky1e: There are some people that take the sentiment seriously, so I try not to complain about it. I personally don’t like the slogan, but if it brings the city together it’s a good thing.

I was talking to my wife about it over all-you-can-eat sushi at lunch today while the TV broadcast a memorial of the bombings and invited donations to the One Fund. We came to agreement that yes, it was a terrible thing, and very much sad. And yes, it needs to be remembered in some way. I mentioned that other parts of the world don’t seem to go so far out of their way to respond like this to a local or national tragedy, preferring instead to retreat and solemnly contemplate all this in silence. I’ve had this conversation with my father as well, who was pretty explicit in suggesting that perhaps Boston was responding a little too strongly in the aftermath. Heck, even Bill Maher suggested the whole thing was getting a little silly.

Then I had a small epiphany: Perhaps people in different parts of the world are culturally inclined to respond to tragedy in different ways. Some cultures like to respond in silent contemplation. The United States likes to go all-out in covering tragedies such as this one – media hysteria, Boston Strong T-shirts and other apparel, and so on.

What if that’s due to Americans being culturally extroverted? They need to express their grief strongly and outwardly, with anger, frustration, sadness, whatever. All said and done, it’s best expressed publicly and loudly in the United States.

Susan Cain of “Quiet” fame called the United States the most extroverted nation in the world. It also celebrates extroverts more than other countries in the world. I tried to think of an exception to this, but I can’t. Cain’s right. I’ve lived here for a year and a half and have never had a problem talking with Americans about anything. People here are a strongly opinionated, loud, affable, friendly bunch and they are always up for a chat even if it’s just about the weather or about the guy who cut them off at that last traffic light.

It’s great, really. So why shouldn’t it be the same the opposite way?

Of course, people here are going to express their grief as publicly as they express their friendliness.

Hence, Boston Strong T-shirts. Hence, loud commemorative events. Hence, pomp and circumstance. That’s just a cultural thing. Let’s not bash ‘em for it, eh?

As for me, I’m not American. I’m Canadian. I have my own way to respond to the Boston Marathon bombings. I felt a lot of anger at that time against the perpetrators who were involved in this. I still feel an uneasy vitriol. And I do feel the need to express that publicly, too.

The chaos of that week can be best expressed in this video timeline. If this video shows anything, it shows the utter disbelief and fear that seized the local community at that time. The fear was real. The disbelief was real. The grief, especially, was real.

For me, I’m glad it wrapped up and that most of us were able to move on with our daily lives. In the end, if people want to respond with T-shirts, charitable donations, a visit to the bomb site, or defiantly running in the marathon next Monday – as many are doing – that’s all good and well. Let’s not jump all over people for it. Everyone has their own way to respond to tragedy.

For me, I like to think about that red feather I found. Cheesy, yes, but that red feather was a highlight of the beauty of life preceding the bombs. The rest of the week was a horrific week, and I’m glad it ended with the clean capture of the main suspect who is now awaiting trial – and perhaps execution – after all is said and done.

I just did a Google search about the meaning of the red feather. Turns out that in native culture, the red feather symbolizes physical vitality, good fortune and life.

Maybe that’s what I’ll take from all of this. Be stronger, and move on.

Oh you, Jack Frost

Posted: 20th March 2014 by Keith MacKenzie in Uncategorized

Ahh, blessed winter. That time of the year when the pretty snowflakes – all of them unique in design and appearance – flutter down from the heavens above and settle on the ground like a gentle butterfly touching down on a puppy dog’s nose. Read the rest of this entry »

The sorrow of driving on Storrow

Posted: 6th August 2013 by Keith MacKenzie in driving
Tags: , , ,

Storrow Drive from the luxury spot of not having to drive in that freak show. (photo from bostonglobe.com)

Ever since moving to Boston – or actually, the northern area of the region – I’ve had the pleasure of driving up and down Storrow Drive. It’s a stretch of road which cuts through Back Bay between the lovely neighbourhoods and Charles River in a rather unfortunate urban design that deprives people of the opportunity to truly enjoy the greenery on the riverside from one of Boston’s most beautiful and affluent neighbourhoods. You’d think it was a conspiracy by the working class in Boston to make life difficult for the wealthy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in the local supermarket

Posted: 5th August 2013 by Keith MacKenzie in culture
Tags: ,

“Excuse me, do you have a washroom here?”

“A wa-what?”

Read the rest of this entry »

A piggyback ride?

Posted: 1st August 2013 by Keith MacKenzie in Uncategorized


Yes, that title is a very deliberate pun. Here I was, this morning, driving through the center of Woburn after dropping off the kids at daycare, when I saw a cop – yes, a bonafide Woburn city policeman – hitching a ride on the back of a construction truck.

That’s something you don’t see everyday.

I have to say that after nearly a year here in Massachusetts, I’ve found cops to be a somewhat different breed than their peers in Vancouver. More relaxed isn’t the right term, but I do find them a little more easy as they go about their business, not quite standoffish like they are in Vancouver. And, weirdly, less intimidating, if not more glum faced and serious looking.

But their ease of being with the community is on display here. You’ll never find a cop hitching a ride on the back of a construction truck in Vancouver, that’s for sure.

Hot stuff, part 2

Posted: 18th July 2013 by Keith MacKenzie in Uncategorized


See there, that’s proof of the hotness that has descended on this dear state of Massachusetts. Apparently heat records being set all over.

Hot stuff

Posted: 15th July 2013 by Keith MacKenzie in Uncategorized

Dressed in a leather bodice over a double-layer floor-length skirt complete with a tankard and pistol, Kat Kingsley, 28, a tour guide at King’s Chapel, prepared for her performance as Loyalist sympathizer Baroness Agnes Franklin. (COLM O’MOLLOY FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

Allow me to extend to my few (many?) readers a sincere apology for the utter lack of content on this blog since the week of April 15, 2013. It’s been a few months befitting the life of a lunatic – in-laws have been staying with us, a few other guests here and there, and in the midst of it all we are working on a big move to a new home in Malden.

Read the rest of this entry »

A child is comforted after explosions went off at the Boston Marathon. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)#

On the day of the 9/11 attacks, I was on a plane from Budapest to Kyiv, Ukraine, where I started an internship for the United Nations Development Programme. My first duty in my new position, which began on Sept. 12, 2001, was to write a letter of condolences from the UN to the American Embassy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Many years ago, my buddy and I jumped into my Volkswagen Westfalia and headed south from Vancouver, Canada. We were bound for Mexico – we only made it as far as New Mexico, but that’s another story – and experienced one of the most hair-raising drives I’ve ever had on the way there. In Salt Lake City, Utah, no less.

Read the rest of this entry »

And here we are at the aforementioned game.

Posted: 28th March 2013 by Keith MacKenzie in Uncategorized