Perspective: Hard to feel 'Boston Strong' under lockdown

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WALTHAM, Mass. - This is beyond surreal.

I am one of thousands of Greater Boston residents under lockdown, ordered by public safety authorities to stay home and keep my doors locked while they search for a 19-year-old man suspected of being one of the people who detonated two bombs during Monday's Boston Marathon.

Our vibrant, sometimes cranky, city has been paralyzed again - for the second time this week.

Monday's shock over the explosions at the finish line of the Marathon in Copley Square was replaced with grief, comforting and an outpouring of support and community sprit that residents here dubbed, "Boston Strong." It was a reflection of the stoic, resilient spirit that pervades this city.

And then we awoke this morning to news of an MIT police officer killed late last night in an aparent confrontation with the suspects. That was followed by a midnight carjacking in Cambridge, an open-air gunfight that injured another police officer and killed one of the suspects, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev. His brother, Dzhokhar, is the one authorities are still searching for and is the reason we are sitting in our locked homes, nervous and wondering how it came to this, in our hometown.

"Boston Strong" is hard to feel when you're in lockdown.

Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, Brookline, Newton, Belmont, Waltham and Somerville are the communities that were placed under lockdown, an area with a combined population of slightly more than one million people. These are also many of the most densely populated, diverse and energetic communities of this metropolitan area and home to some of our most respected institutions. But today these places have been turned into anxious ghost towns while police vehicles race across neighborhood streets, desperately looking into every lead and cautioning residents to take shelter for fear of more explosives and more bloodshed.

Much of today's manhunt has focused on Cambridge, where the suspects apparently lived, and on neighboring Watertown, where law enforcement units conducted door-to-door searches in search of Dzhokhar. Police and media converged near an old military armory known as the Arsenal, a national historic site where the United States Army once stored bombs and machine guns and yesterday became a staging area for police searching for an alleged bomber. No one could have predicted such a painful irony.

Schools, universities, businesses and offices were all shut today as we watched and listened for news. An entire public transit system was closed down. A city that on Monday teemed with so much life, endurance, strength and cheers from millions of spectators has been silenced, save for the wail of sirens and the microphoned pronouncements of government officials.

Little by little we are learning about the suspects. They were brothers. They were refugees. They enjoyed wrestling and boxing. They studied at local colleges. They looked and sounded like many of the rest of us who live in this area.

And that's what's so bothersome.

Greater Boston, like so many of our great metropolitan areas, has become richer by the presence of so many people of so many different backgrounds and interests. It is our cities where people flock to share their ideas and create new ones.

We still don't know why these suspects - if they did carry out Monday's bombings - would have wanted to bring so much shock, pain and death to their adopted city. We don't know what we could have done to prevent this from happening. And we don't know when we will be released from this lockdown and allowed to try to resume with our lives.

This is a city all too familiar with struggle - and sometimes strangely proud of that. The American Revolution, the Boston Red Sox, school busing and now, the Boston Marathon are all struggles that are part of the Bostonian's bruised but big heart.

Even under lockdown, that heart still beats strongly - and a little nervously.

Boston is famous for its provincialism, even among its suburbs, where even the smallest community has its own government structure. But this week we all are one Boston.

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Richard Chacon is a former Boston Globe reporter and editor.


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