Editorial: United by Boston

Editorial: United by Boston
(Library of Congress)

Ich bin ein Bostonian: I am a Bostonian.

We borrow from former President John F. Kennedy’s famous statement of solidarity in West Berlin 50 years ago, after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Then, America’s president was expressing support for freedom and democracy in the face of communist oppression.

Last week, Americans across the country united behind our comrades in the Hub, who endured the horrific April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon and then suffered through four more agonizing days while the terrorists remained at large.

It’s a sad truth that tragedy often brings out the best in us. This was evident last week, as concern for what Boston residents were enduring poured in from across the country. Southerners and Northeasterners may often disagree on political issues and New Yorkers and Bostonians may feed intense regional and sports rivalries, but attack one of us and you’ve attacked us all.

Who would have ever thought they’d see thousands of people in New York’s Citi Field and Yankee Stadium heartily singing the Red Sox’s signature song — Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” — in tribute? There were few dry eyes in America when Diamond sang the song in person at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon, after flying from California to Boston that morning without being asked. His presence at the Red Sox game was cathartic.
The tragedy in Boston reminds us in Alexandria of two important facts. The first is that, by virtue of our proximity to Washington, we remain more vulnerable than most of America to terrorist attacks. It’s an unsettling truth that we must accept to live here.

The nature of our modern world means some of us will likely be present even if terrorists strike elsewhere. This reality was brought home by the stories in the Times this week and last of Chris Farley and the Malm family, who were in Boston to watch or participate in the marathon. While they escaped serious injury, in the case of Leslie Malm, it was a near miss.

The second is something we all know but push aside in the bustle and small conflicts of daily life: What unites us is far stronger than what divides us. We debate and disagree about the role our federal government should play in the health care arena or which plan is best for Alexandria’s waterfront. These issues are important, but Boston — and 9/11 before it — reminds us that we must not lose sight of the big picture.

We are united by commitment to our country, the principles of freedom and equality, our democratic form of government, and our free enterprise economy — as well as by our city, neighborhoods and schools in Alexandria. If we keep an eye on the larger matters that are most important, we would do a better job at seeking consensus. After all, issues don’t have to be a zero-sum game — and those who advocate for positions other than ours are still fellow Americans.

Events in Boston last week remind us that we live in an era when the unthinkable can happen at any moment. May our “better selves” that were on display last week stick around for a while.