On April 15, 2013, I was at a desk, working my day job, when homemade pressure-cooker bombs went off by the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Like everyone else posted at my office, I was on tenterhooks, first waiting for confirmation of the cause of the blast, then to hear news of rescue and aid efforts, then for word on the culprits, who remained at large until April 19, when the chase ended in blood and gunfire. I remember the search for the perpetrators, and I remember the weeks and months following their capture, when Boston came together for healing and camaraderie in the wake of the unimaginable.
We were all "Boston strong." We were told as much by the media as by fellow Bostonians. That was the catchphrase, the invocation we all used to connect to each other's pain, and the slogan that corporate opportunists used to move merchandise. It's not that there isn't, or wasn't, truth to the words, or good reason to speak them. Bostonians are tough, seen as flinty, but our stern New England exteriors belie a heart and neighborly compassion unlike any I've encountered elsewhere in the United States. The city is full of good people with good intentions, and the Marathon bombing bore out that truth as we made it our business to care for each other. We never needed to be "Boston strong," just strong.
It's appropriate that David Gordon Green's new film, Stronger, which opens this week in theaters, should recall the language used in homage to Boston's post-Marathon show of resilience. Victims of the bombing, as well as their families, had to be more than strong, and that's where "Boston strong" failed us, and continues to fail us, as a rallying cry: It invited us to appropriate suffering most of us never knew and to see ourselves in tales of the bombing's aftermath at their subjects' expense.
Green, a director with an unfailingly poetic approach to making movies, keys into that in his interpretation of Chelmsford native Jeff Bauman's Marathon bombing memoir. You might not recognize Bauman's name at a glance, but you've probably seen his face: The photograph Charles Krupa took of Bauman, ashen and dazed, getting wheeled to safety by EMTs and his savior, good Samaritan Carlos Arredondo, is one of the enduring documents of the bombing's carnage.