An Easter People in the Boston Lockdown

The Rev Cameron Partridge, Episcopal chaplain at Boston University describes a day spent in lockdown.

One of my family’s favorite books, The Napping House begins, “there is a house, a napping house, where everyone is sleeping.” I may be the only one awake here on this bizarrely quiet late Friday afternoon. Our three year old son has fallen asleep on the floor of his room with the light on, my spouse and our three month old are asleep on the couch, and our guest is napping at least in name—that was the condition under which our son released him drawing endless pictures of our family as a collection of pterodactyls.

This is our Boston lockdown. A little levity is going a long way around here.

Monday, of course, we had the Marathon bombings. I was in a meeting at Tealuxe in Cambridge when I simultaneously noticed somber tones coming from the radio, and my phone vibrating off the hook in my pocket. I immediately got on Facebook to post check in on my BU and HDS students. The university was closed Monday, since the marathon essentially runs straight through the campus. Attending it is a BU tradition, so much so that the Dean of Marsh Chapel hosts an annual marathon brunch at his home. I couldn’t get across the river, so I checked in again later from home. And when I did, I couldn’t believe the scope of what had happened. Despite its smaller scale, it was impossible not to be reminded of 9-11. And for me, having grown up in the Bay Area, the experience of the Loma Prieta earthquake came back as well.

As the days went on, we learned that a BU graduate student, Lingzi Lu, was one of the three who was killed. Another was in the hospital. That yet another BU student has died is beyond what my mind can grasp. Over the last two years the university has lost several students in contexts ranging from bicycle accidents, to a car accident in New Zealand, to a murder in Allston. This is by no means the norm. There was a palpable sense of disbelief at the vigil early Eucharist Wednesday evening, as Dean Robert Hill described the celebratory, carefree spirit that pervaded Marathon Day before the carnage.

Meanwhile, the suspects were still at large. On the way home from our Wednesday night dinner, a member of the community commented, “I’ve realized that nobody wants to admit it because no one wants to seem needy, but we’re all pretty freaked out. Because, let’s face it, these people are still out there, and nobody knows what they’re going to do.” We had talked about the bombings and our reaction to them during community dinner, but there was a sense of reserve about it—people seemed to need space from it, not to linger too much in its enormity.

Then yesterday I attended the Interfaith Service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End. I was pulled across police lines by a Moses-like Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, who somehow managed to get me in. The Governor’s office planned the service from start to finish, but Laura was a huge to support to many of us along the way. As I stood through the service with my back against a pillar at the back of the cathedral, I took in the mixture of grief, anger, resilience, and resolve. I arrived home in the afternoon, totally exhausted.

By 11pm last night, I was collapsing into bed, but a quick look at my Twitter feed revealed police activity at MIT. Shots fired, officer down. I fell asleep thinking, how long was Boston going to be in the twilight zone? I awoke at 6:30am to my spouse telling me much of metro Boston was basically shut down. The MIT shooting had actually been related to the marathon bombers manhunt. One of the suspects was dead, the other on the run somewhere in Watertown, Cambridge, Belmont, or the Allston/Brighton area of Boston. Already many of the area colleges and universities had sustained injuries of one sort or another. With the impact of the marathon bombings having stretched so palpably to the MIT campus, all of us in campus ministry here are bound that much more inextricably in this wider web.

Even as I write, the search continues. Members of both of my university communities who live in Watertown are being visited by SWAT teams. They are, as one of them put it in our facebook group, “freaked out but okay. We just want this to be over as peacefully as possible.”

Meanwhile, in the other half my Harvard Divinity School ministry (I am a Lecturer and Denominational Counselor for Episcopal/Anglican students at HDS), we are in the home stretch of our long-planned Anglican Studies Conference, “Contemplation in Action”. Much of today has been spent online, in conference calls, and in shuttling arriving guests. This morning I scooped up one presenter who flew in from out of state. Little did he know he would spend significant time today drawing dinosaurs for a three year old.

Bottom line: Harvard University may or may not be closed tomorrow, but we are determined to go forward. We are still on tomorrow, in a changed venue: at Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge. Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold is unable to get to us, but Bishop Tom Shaw is committed to being with us, preaching and celebrating at our Eucharist which has been moved to 3pm. All are welcome and invited to come to the conference as a whole and to the Eucharist in particular, to receive the gifts of bread and wine when we need them most (see hdsepisc.org). More than ever, we want to be together as an Easter people who are going through a great ordeal. More than ever, we want to call ourselves afresh into practices of justice and peace, prayerfully fueled by the good news of reconciliation. The love of Christ urges us on.

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