Live from Cambridge on Lockdown

We’re on lockdown here in Cambridge.

Since Monday the Boston bombing has come closer and closer to home until last night and a major shootout just one mile away at MIT’s campus.

20130419-135307.jpgWe are in lockdown – what better time to write? Bread is rising on the stove, ready to be baked in an hour, and the bright daylight is shining through the windows making beautiful patterns on the wall. The bright yellow forsythia outside our windows belies the chaos that is going on at Norfolk street, less than a mile away.

Since midnight last night our neighborhood has been under a type of siege. While this is not unfamiliar to some of my readers, for Boston and Cambridge it is unusual. These are safe, small cities in the big scheme of things. Easily monitored and contained. All of this began last night but a few blocks from us. We are on full lockdown, not allowed to go out, told to stay away from our windows. All of the businesses are closed, all cab drivers have been ordered off the road, and the public transit system is completely shut down.

It’s eerily quiet other than the sirens in the distance and the occasional police log that we are trying to listen in on.

It turns out that the suspects live not far from us in Inman Square, just blocks past Central square. The younger of the two, Jahar, was in high school with my daughter. A “great kid” she says. She brings up an old prom picture that shows the two of them side by side at prom in 2011. Well-liked, well respected, a wrestler, a scholarship recipient.

And so the why’s begin. A reporter knocking on the door to interview my daughter, desperate to create a profile: who was this kid, who is this kid? Non-stop commentary that we are so tired of but can’t bring ourselves to turn off. I look at Jahar’s picture – he’s a kid, for God’s sake. He’s not fitting our well-crafted profile of what a ‘terrorist’ looks like. He’s so young. And he has brought a city to a standstill.

What happened between high school and now? It’s clear he and his brother had no family around – a sister in New Jersey who has not recently seen him, an uncle who admittedly has not been in touch with him. What loneliness, anger, ideology leads someone to go from seemingly well-adjusted to being chief suspect in the worst tragedy that has struck Boston since the planes left from Logan International Airport on 9/11?

“I do not have one single friend in America. I do not understand Americans…”*

I am acutely aware that the immigrant experience can be fraught with loneliness and isolation. I also know that unless you have experienced the loneliness of coming to this country from a completely different world then you can’t quite understand that. America does offer tremendous opportunity. But there are times when that opportunity is entwined with insecurity, loss, isolation, a constant feeling of not belonging. Lady Liberty doesn’t tell us this on her inscription.

Please understand –– I am not justifying the actions of this young man. He is an adult and made a choice. His actions are evil and should rightly be condemned. To suggest that he made this choice just because he was a lonely immigrant is ludicrous. There are many lonely immigrants and they don’t bomb cities.

Yet the why remains? And I, like so many, shake my head and long for answers. Long for the world to make a bit more sense.

Meanwhile, we are in lockdown in Cambridge. And it’s a reminder of the many places in the world that wake up every day and safety is a foreign word, an unknown concept. May I never forget that – because today we are on lockdown.

*quote from deceased terror suspect in photo essay.

A Mile From the Well

Ancient cities were never more than a mile from the well…

Downtown Los Angeles

“We have to stop building 20th Century cities in a 21st Century world” Tuning into NPR (National Public Radio) on a recent Friday afternoon I happened upon a talk that was being given at TedxBoston by Kent Larson, a researcher at MIT.

The title alone captured my attention but beyond the title, what he said struck me as so significant that I barely heard the rest of the program. Cities in the ancient world centered around wells and no one lived more than a mile from the well. You lived, he said, only as far as you could walk with a water pot on your head. You could look at a grid and the limits were never more than a mile from that well. As the city grew larger, another well would be built and along with it another neighborhood.

If a city began to grow beyond this, another well would be built

The well was the giver of water, the giver of health, giver of community, giver of life. I was lost in a world of disbelief as I thought about how far we have come from this idea. With sprawling cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix trapped with poor transportation systems and gated communities we are miles from “the well”. We try to make it work, but it doesn’t. Moving beyond the well has consequences – we need more cars, more roads, more bridges, more money and we lose community in the process.

The well was the giver of water, the giver of health, giver of community, giver of life…

Mr. Larson directs a research program at MIT called “Changing Places”. His research focuses on urban living – more specifically responsive urban housing, new urban vehicles, ubiquitous technologies, and living lab experiment. In short, how can our cities change so they better meet the needs of those who live in them.

I don’t have answers for any of this – but I bring this up because so many of you know what it is like to live a mile from the well. A mile from where life happens and life is given. And when you move beyond that, you’ve faced distractions and frustrations, loneliness and loss.

So what do you think? What does this idea of being a mile from the well mean to you? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.