One week ago today, here in Boston, everything changed. Or did it?

While the precise motivations of the bombers are not clear, it seems that as they struck down so many at the Boston Marathon finish line, they sought to cripple an entire city with terror. On that front, they failed miserably. As Dennis Lehane wrote in last Tuesday's New York Times — the day after the Marathon Monday bombing — they messed with the wrong city:

Two different friends texted me the identical message yesterday: They messed with the wrong city. This wasn’t a macho sentiment. It wasn’t “Bring it on” or a similarly insipid bit of posturing. The point wasn’t how we were going to mass in the coffee shops of the South End to figure out how to retaliate. Law enforcement will take care of that, thank you. No, what a Bostonian means when he or she says “They messed with the wrong city” is “You don’t think this changes anything, do you?”

On Friday, during the lockdown, I wondered whether "Health Foo," the weekend health care innovation unconference I was invited to attend in Cambridge — a few blocks from where MIT police officer Sean Collier was killed — could possibly go on as scheduled. By mid-afternoon, it was canceled, but some conference-goers, from all over the country, were already en route. A few of us locals joined in, and together a couple dozen of us hacked the canceled unconference into an un-unconference (or un-Foo, or Foo-Foo, as the weekend progressed). Without a venue (until we found one, thanks to two of the local attendees who volunteered their MIT lab space), we were also a Walking Foo. The group felt strongly that not only had the bombers messed with the wrong city, they had messed with the wrong unconference — we had problems to solve and weren't going to be blown off course by a couple of madmen.

For a taste of this year's Health Foo, take a look at the #healthfoo tweetstream, and Ted Eytan's post, Best canceled event I have ever been to. It was a terrific unconference, I reconnected with my tribe, and we had some great discussions. For a sense of the first and second Health Foo unconferences, see Susannah Fox's and Ted's posts on 2011 and 2012, respectively.

While we were engaged in conversation on Sunday morning, my good friend and long-time cycling buddy Hillel Bromberg was telling the madmen they messed with the wrong city in another way. With his permission, I'm sharing an email entitled "Catharsis in Motion" which he sent out yesterday afternoon, not long before Health Foo 2013 wrapped. He bicycled the Boston marathon route yesterday, (something we've done in the past, out from the finish to the start and back again before the runners begin). His message concludes:

We finished the ride at the Public Garden and were met by a group of college-age kids who were wandering around wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with, “Do you need a hug?” They were joyfully distributing embraces to all comers and I had to respect their own form of catharsis. Then we walked over to the memorial site that has blossomed a couple of blocks away at the end of Boylston Street. There were a few hundred people milling around and some kind of interfaith service going on. From there, I could see the building that houses my office. We were a block away from the finish line on Monday. We heard the booms, we saw the plume of smoke. I don’t know when we’ll be able to get back into our building. All I could do was hold the rope out of the way so some little kid could add her drawings to the growing pile of heartfelt testimonials.

I don’t have any answers to this madness. We all need to mourn and heal and try to understand in our own way. For me, being in motion matters. There is something about the simple joy of riding a bicycle, along with the very practical help of donating to devastated families, that makes me feel like I’m on the right track. I hope I always remember to take action. I hope you find your own peace.

I wish I could have ridden with Hillel while meeting with the whole un Health Foo gang, to react with both mind and body. Along with the rest of Boston, we just carried on, thumbing our noses — or simply ignoring — the madmen.

They messed with the wrong city.


David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting