As a resident of the city of Boston, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma.
This Thursday is the fourth of July, when the Boston Pops Orchestra will put on its annual free concert at the Hatch Shell, which sits at the eastern end of the park overlooking the Charles River known as the Esplanade.
The event, officially christened the “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular,” celebrates its 40th year of Independence Day performances in their present form, which regularly draw crowds in the hundreds of thousands—folks who pay no admission, are subject to no formal security checks, and yet, with rare exceptions, are unfailingly well-behaved. (A “no alcohol” policy is enforced, but by no means obeyed.)
For me and countless other Bostonians, the quandary is as follows: Should we attend the Pops concert this year?
I have partaken in the July 4th festivities along the Esplanade many times in years past. When I was very young, our family opted for the “dress rehearsal” held the night before—smaller crowds, less traffic—but I have counted myself among the throngs at the main event for four years running, always managing to find a perfectly pleasant spot along one of the parkland’s several lagoons, which afford an unobstructed view of the fireworks display that brings the evening to its thrilling, sparkly conclusion.
However, this year is different. The atmosphere of the whole enterprise is polluted, however subtly, by the fear of explosions of an entirely different sort.
Two and a half months have passed since twin pressure cooker bombs ruined the Boston Marathon, with the surviving perpetrator being kept under close supervision by the authorities, but the attack’s shadow nonetheless looms as the city prepares to celebrate the day America was born.
We cannot help but wonder: Could lightning strike twice? Is this the year to stay home and celebrate July 4th in the comfort of our own living rooms, and not risk being blown up by some party-pooping terrorist?
On a purely rational level, this should not be so. The two Marathon masterminds are respectively dead and locked up, and there have been no specific threats to public safety on the Esplanade. What is more, the city intends to pull out all the stops to prevent any possible atrocity in every way that it can, with an increased police presence, stricter rules on what items are prohibited on the grounds, and the like.
And yet a handful of uncomfortable facts remains. The concert is held in a sprawling public park in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay, access to which cannot possibly be entirely controlled, even if such a thing were desirable, which it is not.
Like the Marathon, the event is open to all and densely-packed with people who, in the throes of laid-back gaiety, are not exercising laser-like vigilance toward their surroundings, effectively outsourcing such responsibility to law enforcement officers, whose powers of keeping the peace are great but by no means unlimited.
Like the Marathon, the Pops show could all-too-easily be turned tragic by some horrid attack. All it would take is someone clever enough and evil enough to carry it out.
This is the price of living in a free society, as we must never tire of reminding ourselves, and something that counts as a national strength, rather than a national weakness. A lesser country would simply hold its Independence Day celebrations under a police state (with irony serving as the first casualty) or not hold them at all.
But America, besides being the land of the free, is also the home of the brave, and there might not be a more basic expression of physical and moral courage than holding a good old fashioned block party.
Yet I cannot resist the temptation to sit this one out, which I may well do, however cowardly I might feel after the fact.
Not that there aren’t legitimate reasons to stay home that have nothing to do with terrorism. To hassle into town to mingle with a half-million strangers, sit on muddy grass and pee in a portable toilet is not everyone’s idea of a good time.
This year, however, these seem like mere lame excuses—a weaselly evasion of the true reason for one’s faintheartedness.
The prospect of terrorism, however remote, ought to make one more inclined to participate, rather than less, particularly on the day we celebrate all the things that make our country worth preserving.
This is the moment to revel for its own sake—to party as a means of defiance and solidarity, in addition to all the usual reasons. It is an opportunity one feels almost duty-bound to take up, and I hope I and everyone else have the nerve to go through with it.