I love my state.
Massachusetts is a great place to live. We have incredible schools, hospitals and a rich history. Of course, we aren’t great with having cheap rent, no repairs or money for an ancient transportation system and having people thinking that Massachusetts can handle the calamity of the Olympics in 2024. Still, despite the setbacks, I am proud to call myself a resident of Massachusetts for 25 of my 26 years on this planet. Unfortunately, Massachusetts, even with her greatness, cannot appease everyone.
DJ, a girl from my London cohort that I have written about before (see my post “Clubbing In Tel Aviv”) was not super familiar with my state. She was from San Diego, California, a state vastly different than mine in terms of weather, education and politics. Still, she thought she knew my state and how I should sell it. As I went to a female-dominated college and worked in the female-dominated field of childcare, being around men in London was new. With DJ being pretty and having had the social experiences with men having gone to a big, co-ed college versus my small, female-centered one, I asked her what to say to the men in the pubs. She told me to be myself, but to add one small lie to my story. I couldn’t say I was from Massachusetts; I had to say I was from Boston. I spent my childhood in West Roxbury, which, while legally being considered Boston, is hardly a place a person thinks of when saying they’re coming to visit Boston. Saying I was from Boston didn’t seem right. Why didn’t DJ want me telling the truth about the place where my childhood happened? DJ had an explanation as to why I had to lie about where I grew up:
“Because Massachusetts isn’t sexy.”
It’s been almost five years since DJ insulted my state.
With the two-year-anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings today, I started to write this post. Then I started to get annoyed. Sometimes it’s the twitchiness over DJ’s asinine reasoning that I wasn’t expecting that I need to pay attention to. I am annoyed because DJ told me to lie. I am annoyed because DJ gave me terrible advice. I am annoyed because she thought so little of a place she has no experience with. I am annoyed that despite the blessings London gave me, it’s bad memories like this that seep into my brain. Now is hardly the first time that I think about London and the difficulties I encountered there.
But the truth is, my London cohort and I were on separate roads, paths split the day I said I worked with and studied children.
As I thought about Massachusetts today, I was hopeful that DJ’s comment and the annoying thoughts that come up would burn themselves out. Annoyance, though, has incredible staying power.
It is hard to adequately express my frustration onto a blog.
I can, however, express the best words I can get onto the page as long as my lexicon allows.
DJ may not appreciate Massachusetts, and, to take a wild guess, probably doesn’t appreciate Israel. Many people don’t. There are still many people who don’t know about Israel being the ONLY country that helped out Boston two years ago. (See my post “The Only Country That Helped Boston.”) There are the people who do know, but don’t care. And of course, there are the people who think that Israel was responsible for the bombings. At this point, I cannot keep track of all the cockamamie conspiracy theories about what Israel/the Jews are responsible for. It’s laughable, really. As far as the Boston Marathon bombings go, the only thing Israel/the Jews are responsible for is their medical, psychological and detective work. When Israelis asked me why I had moved to Israel for ten months, I gave a myriad of reasons, one being that I wanted to pay Israel back for her assistance to Boston and also to the world.
As I walked down Boylston Street in Copley Square on Saturday with my friend, Emily, we observed the street being prepped for this year’s Marathon. Memories of running with my Fellow, Aliyah, right above the shoreline of Netanya’s beach resurfaced, having been buried in my subconscious. My attempts at running near my apartment have been difficult with the weather, and I recognize how spoiled I was being able to live in Netanya, a place where the sun was rarely short of leaving me with a tan and filling me with endorphins. Although the weather in Massachusetts has finally begun to improve after a disastrous winter, traces of Israel, and the life I had there, remain.
As I ran near my apartment on Sunday afternoon, I recalled the way the warm air in Netanya surrounded my face. As I chugged down a bottle of water after my run, I was reminded of when I would finish a workout at the gym on Netanya’s promenade and thought about how the combination of exhaustion and relief felt going down my throat. The light wind mimicked the air that drifted up from the water on Netanya’s beach, a wind that took no notice of inner demons and knew nothing of what the rest of my head was dealing with. I admit that I miss running with Aliyah. I miss my afternoons at the gym. I miss looking at the faces of my students who were proud and inspired that their teacher was doing her best to stay healthy and trying to grab their eyes with mine, recognizing myself in their reflections. Thinking about them and all that their country gave me, and the city of Boston, the air smells sweet, as though reminiscing secretes physical properties into the gloomy evenings around me. I sit in my bedroom as memories of Israel roll down my cheeks.
Life, I’ve learned, comes with a big responsibility to suffer the threat of things I neither understand nor can do a thing about. I cannot make people like DJ act sweetly. I cannot get Israel’s naysayers to listen. So I do what I can do. I speak to the kids I babysit about Israel when words fail. I place my hands on their cheeks, heavy with all the messages I cannot verbalize. I press my mouth to their foreheads, firm with my will for the best. I give them all the kisses I can no longer give Israel’s air.
I have my share of blessings, without even counting past Israel. I am blessed to live in Massachusetts, even if it isn’t “sexy.” I am blessed that I have wonderful babysitting clients, both the new ones I obtained after I moved back to Massachusetts and the old ones who took me back just after I came back to America. I am blessed to be in reasonably good health, to have great roommates and to have a job, even though the hours are awful and I am stuck there until I find something in the Jewish world. And I still know how blessed I was last year, spending my birthday in Tel Aviv with Cassie and her father. (See my post “Eight Months.”) While it was difficult with the food restrictions due to Passover, I am so glad they were there for me when my cohort was on vacation and hope that being in Israel on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on my city could express my thanks to Her for helping when no one else did.
Two years after the heinous attack on my city, I have seen how the areas of Boylston Street that were affected by the fiery bombs have changed. The street has moments of eerie silence. Shops have been rebuilt. A memorial to the three victims who were killed by the bombs is placed near a tree. The broken glass has been cleaned and the blood wiped away. I try not to see it as a bad metaphor that everything familiar has changed.
In literature, fire is sometimes used to represent death. Fire is pungent, painful and burns. But fire brings romance, warmth, happiness, and passion, too.
While the runners, tourists, residents and bombing victims in Massachusetts have found lots of ways to keep running both figuratively and literally, instead I will try to run outside again, my feet pounding the pavement and my chest being on fire. The seasons tend to weigh fire with a heavy, expressive value—candle flames as strong symbols of illumination, while fireplaces point towards renewal and hope.
There’s a new set of runners shipping up to Boston over the next few days. If they get injured, the paramedics have first aid kits sent from Israel. Israel, a beacon of hope in the balagan of the Middle East, will always be there for anyone who needs Her; an injured runner who needs medical help. A doctor who needs training. A farmer who needs irrigation technology. A girl like me who needed guidance.
As another Marathon commences soon, I will think of the runners’ passion and how the bright flames of their fire point towards the future. I am pretty tempted to see that as a fine metaphor. The runners, and the Israelis, may not be in places that are “sexy.” They are in places that are both misunderstood. But they are in places that are fiery. Fiery from bad things like bombs, but, conversely, fiery from things like passion and strength.
I know that DJ doesn’t think my state is “sexy.” But my state is strong. And that is what gives her fire.