Vineyard roots run strong and deep and I never have imagined calling anywhere else on earth home. I grew up on the Island, but plenty of people grow up plenty of places. They move, they call other cities, other towns their own. What has always rooted me to Martha’s Vineyard is what roots so many people here — a community with a heart much larger than the Island’s 100 square miles would suggest.
It’s a community I came to rely on and admire as a child and teenager in school here. Much as I often resented that this was a place where everyone knew my name (which meant that my parents found out I’d started hitchhiking about two days after I first tried it), I knew that there was something special and different about the kindness, the generosity and the strength of the people here.
It was not until I returned to the Vineyard as a young adult, to report for this newspaper, that I was first humbled by the ties that bind this community together. Together we filled the Agricultural Hall and spilled onto the grounds around it after a Cape Air pilot and father of two went down with his plane one terrible morning. Together we gathered on Main street Vineyard Haven as a young couple watched their dreams and hard work go up in smoke on a pristine July Fourth day, their just-opened Café Moxie burning to the ground before so many eyes. But we take care of our own here, and we take care of ones we don’t even know as ours — when cancer strikes, when jobs are lost, when car accidents claim our children. This community supports each other unlike any community I had ever seen, been a part of, or imagined.
On Monday, this changed for me. The notion of home changed. I witnessed an outpouring of humanity and of community strength that made me think, for the first time, that a place other than the Vineyard was home. I’ve lived and worked in Boston for the past five years and on Monday afternoon, I landed at Logan after a long weekend in Washington, D.C. I went straight to Beacon street in Brookline to watch my first Boston Marathon. After leaving the Gazette, I had gone to work for the Boston Herald, and Patriot’s Day was always a holiday spent inside the newsroom. This year would be different. I just never imagined in how many ways.
Not long after finding a spot on the sidelines, a girl ran over, frantic. We heard the word “explosion” for the first of what now seems like countless times. We turned to social media, to the news, to the newspapers for more. We called friends and family. We received texts, sometimes delayed as an entire city jammed its cell phones and emails.
We wanted facts, but what we got were stories. Stories of firefighters, busboys, runners, fans, teachers, all making gestures that seemed small at the time, but were heroic and necessary at a moment when a city that should have been on top of its game was bleeding, shattered and stunned. As the news continued to unfold — tragically, uncertainly, confusingly — it soon became clear that this, right here in the geographic heart of this city, was community at its finest. Runners having just crossed the finish line kept on going, straight to the hospitals to donate blood. Reporters and photographers, police officers and EMTs on duty that day ran toward the explosion, risking their lives to help and comfort strangers around them. A restaurant owner in Kenmore Square did the only thing he knew to do — he ordered his cook to stop the line and fry up trays of grilled cheese sandwiches to deliver to runners stranded in the hotel lobby next door.
For every story out there reported, there are hundreds more that went unnoticed by the public, important only to those that lived them.
On Tuesday night, still raw and reeling, I met for a stiff drink with friends from growing up on the Vineyard. With heavy hearts we comforted each other and talked about home — about Boston, the city and community that belongs very much to us.
Julia Rappaport, a former reporter for the Vineyard Gazette, is writer and editor of online content at the Boston-based educational nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves.