It’s not often that I am roused from sleep by an outside noise. At home, my bedroom sits at the base of a post-war brick-house and looks out onto a gingerly planted flower garden. The pansies and lilies didn’t make it this spring, snuffed out by Hurricane Sandy’s salty wrath, and the house was battered. I wasn’t there for the storm. I was at Harvard, sitting in Matthews Hall, my Gothic redoubt of a dorm, the embellished, imposing entryways like sentry posts, the crucifixes cut out of the porch enclosure, the advance guard. But on the night of April 18th the defenses were overwhelmed, and the sound of police cars invaded my room and kept me from repose.
A few hours ago, I had been working on my homework. As I took a break from the Nietzsche reading to check my e-mail, I noticed a peculiar item had come across the Harvard Crimson’s listserv: there was an active shooter on M.I.T.’s campus and possibly an officer down. I turned the news on, and then turned it off. Twitter and the policescanner were better, quicker sources of information, and we at The Crim monitored both as the night wound on.
What had started as a contained skirmish quickly escalated into a war, and Cambridge and Watertown were its theater. To no avail, the police shut down the subway, searching the Red Line for the shooters. We heard a duo had stuckup a 7/11 and committed grand-theft auto. According to some accounts (which were thankfully false) guns and grenades were going off on the Quad, the far end of campus. Reports came in of new bomb threats.
No one knew what to believe. Was this connected to the Boston Marathon bombings? If so, were the perpetrators the two suspects? Were they part of a terrorist cell? I was in no immediate danger, but was seized by the spectator’s irrational fear, that ineffable, second grader fright I felt watching smoke rise off the Trade Center.
Around 3 a.m., news broke that the Boston bombers and the evening’s desperadoes were one and the same, identified as Tamerlan and Dzohkar Tsarnaev. F.B.I., S.W.A.T., and Homeland Security were sweeping Watertown, to which it was thought they had fled. I went to bed.
In the morning, classes had been canceled. The governor had ordered the city shut down as law-enforcement cornered the younger Tsarnaev, defused explosives, and investigated bomb threats. My roommates and I, along with a friend who had crashed on our couch, went to the dining hall at noon for lunch. Everyone was shaken, but we were shaken together. We were also proud. Proud of the authorities’ response. Proud of our school. Proud of Boston (dare I say it!). Proud of America. We sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” With the workers’ revolution in the balance, the campus far-left took to its Twitter soapbox to denounce our chauvinistic behavior.
Near dinner-time, I, recasting myself with the swagger and courage of a Second Intifada Sabra, sauntered around Cambridge in pursuit of shawarma. But the Israelis had closed shop. So I settled for a turkey club sandwich at the Au Bon Pain across the street from campus, where I received a frenzied call from my father, who really thought Cambridge 2013 was Tel Aviv 2001.
I was once again taking a crack at The Genealogy of Morals when the shutdown ceased. Shabbat was approaching, and it was a good excuse to escape blond beasts, the will to power, and slave morality — not to mention Nietzsche’s proto-Nazism. Two Harvard cops were on the bet at Hillel, and a group of us Jews, as we waited for our more devout friends to finish their prayers, gathered around the officers, who were listening to the police scanner. The younger Tsarnaev was trapped in a boat. We said Kiddush and repasted on matzo ball soup, roast chicken, and kugel. “We got him,” a cry rung out. A cheer followed. A day of rest had arrived.