Dorchester, Mass. — “Would you like a candle?” she asks me, one of the locals who have organized this night on almost no notice.
“Here’s a cup. You poke a hole in it and put the candle through.” She shows me how. “You know, in case it gets too windy.”
It is a gusty gloaming — and cold — on the baseball field of Garvey Park in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston, Mass. But at 7:30 the sun is setting against a pink-purple sky and it comprises a pacific backdrop for the many — a thousand? more? — who have come here to pray for the soul of little Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy from St. Anne’s Parish who for reasons beyond us all was killed by the blasts in Copley Square on Monday.
She won’t give me her name. Neither of the women handing out candles will. And she says she doesn’t want to talk. Then she talks to me for ten minutes straight — two Marlboros — and I can’t get a word in edgewise as I try to hide the knowing smile of someone whose family is from suburban Boston.
“It’s a community that when someone hurts, we all hurt. We come together to help each other. We don’t have to know each other, but the community is so close. You see it, right?”
I do. The crowd is clustered close, and it runs the temporal gamut: toddlers toddle at the feet of octogenarians in wheelchairs, shawls tightly gathered. There are Moms and Dads and Teenagers, and Working Men of every description in Sox caps and Celtic jerseys and scuffed workboots.
A raised concrete slab is made an impromptu dais, and a representative from Boston’s Public Health Commission speaks through a microphone.
“You’re a beautiful crowd,” he says. “I wish you could see what we see up here.” The mass raises its candles in unison.
Father John Connolly, the pastor of neighboring St. Brendan’s Parish, takes the mic. He is here because the pastor at St. Anne’s, where the Richard family worshipped, is attending to other aggrieved families.
He talks of Garvey Park as a field where Martin often played. He gives an affecting homily that touches on the problem of evil and the holiness of those who ran toward the explosions rather than away from them. He reads from the Gospel of Saint Mark – “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” And he leads us in prayer for Martin and his family — fixtures in the neighborhood, ready community volunteers, little-league boosters, givers of block parties — who very much need prayer. People in contact with the family say Martin’s young sister has a grievous leg injury, and doctors have not yet decided on amputation, and Martin’s mother could need multiple surgeries for her eye.
When Father John is done, assembled Dorchester crosses itself.
I catch up with the priest, who grew up about three miles from where we are standing, in Jamaica Plain. I ask him what outsiders should know about Dorchester.
“Dorchester is the biggest neighborhood in the city of Boston,” he tells me. “This part here is a solidly middle-class neighborhood that has an overabundance of firefighters and police officers among its residents — both Father Sean at St. Anne’s and me at St. Brendan’s are police chaplains. There are many families who have been here for generations. It’s not uncommon to see grandparents pushing baby carriages or multiple generations of families still living in the same home. People here have not only close relationships, but in many cases decades-long relationships. So when it happens here, it really is a rift in the fabric of the community.”
The crowd breaks into a spontaneous rendition of “God Bless America.” Old Glory is waved, along with a kelly-green flag that reads “Believe in Boston.”
Dorchester stays put, commiserating, consoling, and even laughing. An hour later little clusters of Bostonians remain, and adolescent girls walk among them offering slices of pizza to the lingerers.
Somebody shows me a picture of little Martin and his outsized gap-toothed smile, holding a poster he made that reads “no more hurting people.”
It’s really all too much. Yet somehow, some way, the candles keep burning in Dorchester.