Just over a week after the Boston Marathon bombing, I learned about her. I’ve been thinking about her ever since: Adrianne Haslet-Davis—the beautiful, young ballroom dancer who lost her foot to one of the blasts. Her foot. A dancer’s connection with the earth–the very foundation of her career. Haslet-Davis may not be unique among Boston’s recent amputees; many were runners, people for whom athleticism and movement were part of their identity. But she stands out for me. As a former dancer, I know what the loss of a foot would mean. According to the articles I’ve read, Haslet-Davis has bouts of sadness and rage in the face of her lost limb, but holds onto hope. She is determined to some day get back to the dance studio, to make a comeback with the Viennese Waltz. Haslet-Davis survives, believing in herself and her future, thanks to her faith in advanced medicine, science and technology. I have no doubt that she will dance again. But her reality has changed; she must adjust her physical identity accordingly. She and the other amputees embody the mission faced by Boston itself: a journey back to its post-bombing future.
When disaster strikes—natural or manmade—it shakes up a community. Things you’ve always trusted—that your neighbors are your neighbors, not hostile strangers; that law enforcement is sufficient to provide safety—gets shaken up. Home is suddenly not home, not quite the place it once felt like. The rules are changed; daily life takes more thought, simple movements are now belabored, shrouded in fear and mistrust. I remember the weeks following nine-eleven, when the world felt different: so unsafe, so newly dark and uncertain. I remember the days after Hurricane Sandy and—more personally for me—the period right after our house fire. Our identity as a family had changed.
Just as Boston’s has now. More than lives were lost in the bombing, more than limbs; something deeper and less tangible was taken. The nation has mourned along with Boston, but now we must watch and cheer the town on as it clamors to its feet, purging what one Boylston Street business owner called “bad energy.”
I lived in Boston for a year, back in 1989-1990, as a member of Boston Ballet II, and though I was in rehearsal most of the time and made too little money to partake of what the city had to offer, I remember its character. Old American beauty thrown up against a bare toughness that rivaled the bare toughness in sections of Brooklyn—only with pinker cheeks and flatter vowels. There were the Public Gardens, evoking memories of history lessons as well as my favorite children’s books, from Make Way for Ducklings to Trumpet of the Swan. A mere stone’s throw away was the “red light” district, disconcertingly close to where we performed Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. Like New York, it was a great walking town, with ethnicities and neighborhoods on display as you walked, as varied as those in my home town. Like New York, but unlike it, too. A little shorter, a little slower, a little less of a chameleon. I haven’t been back since I left twenty years ago, but still I remember the Boston-ness of the town, how I knew I’d always be an outsider, but appreciated the fact of calling it home for that season.
Things are getting back to normal there, but because of the bombing, they will never quite be the same. Like those who lost limbs—each of whom must now face different lives and find their own, new versions of “normal,” each day will be marked by the triumph of overcoming unimaginable loss.