Boston, “The City on a Hill,” the “Athens of America,” “the Puritan City,” “The Cradle of Liberty.” But, irreverently, I can’t say Boston without thinking of Boston Baked Beans, so “Bean City” it is. Yet as these other nicknames indicate, Boston is so much more. And just across the Charles River (“the most highly educated river in the world,” a guide assured us), lies Cambridge. In the greater Boston environs many institutes of higher learning, including Boston University, Tufts University, MIT, and of course, Harvard.
“Did I tell you I went to Harvard?”
“Yes, really. I’ll never forget the experience. It rained that afternoon.”
Part of the above dialogue is true. It did rain that day.
The inclement weather didn’t bother us, though. We just ducked into the Harvard Natural History Museum. If you want to follow in our footsteps, block out at least a whole day—a week would be better–to examine this captivating collection of artifacts that illustrate the history of our physical world from prehistory to today, including that which once was but now is no more. One example is the now extinct passenger pigeon. They once were so numerous they darkened the skies as they passed overhead. That was before human hunters blasted them into oblivion, and now they are no more.) Gone also are giant mastodons and mammoths that shared the same fate. Other species fell to the ice age and other natural disasters. If you doubt that climate change is real and can be deadly, just spend a little time reviewing the history of our planet–a stroll through this museum is a good way to do it. What is unnerving is the undeniable fact that earth’s biggest threat comes from its chief predator, homo sapiens. You can’t escape this lesson as you move through the museum nor, on the other hand, can you keep from marveling over the amazing diversity of creatures we share our space with, like the 10,000 species of birds and over 350,000 species of beetles.
You see? There’s nothing like a Harvard education.
Brian said what most impressed him about Harvard was the coffee shop located a few blocks away, offering shelter from the rain. I think he was kidding.
Joy and I both spent some time in Boston, but not together. She and our landlady Suzette spent most of their time along the waterfront. They reported their day, probably not suspecting that I was most impressed by one anecdote. They wanted to view the city from the third floor balcony outside a hotel’s banquet hall. I don’t think they were supposed to be there. So they did it. The view was magnificent. Not so magnificent was the locked door behind them. They couldn’t escape. They went down and up several flights of stairs. All the doors were locked. They’d still be there if they hadn’t finally been able, by pounding on the glass, to attract the attention of a kind young man who rescued them. I shouldn’t let her go out on her own, or even in the company of certain individuals.
They were on their own because Velcro sons Brian and Mike and I had a mini-reunion, just the boys. Some of these pictures came from their cameras. A highlight of our time together was the sunset cruise around the harbor.
On our agenda was a walking tour (The Freedom Trail) of Old Boston, but we arrived at the starting point too late in the afternoon, so we had to postpone it for another day. We weren’t too late for the sunset cruise in Boston Harbor, though. We made several discoveries: 1) It can be pretty chilly on the top deck in late May. 2) Most of the land we saw from the boat—the islands, East Boston—was manmade. If you’re going to dig a long, long tunnel under Boston and the Charles River, you have to put the dirt somewhere. That transplanted dirt and the tops of Boston’s three hills work well holding up Logan International Airport’s runways, and appear now as additional islands in the harbor and as the base that made possible Boston’s development to the East.
So much to see in Boston and its environs. Brian and I walked much of the Freedom Trail. (Mike, poor working stiff, was back in our Airbnb preparing for an upcoming board meeting.) Rather than hire a guide to show us around, we downloaded an app so we could go at our own pace as we listened to the recorded narration on our headphones. We even paid—not that we had much choice—to upgrade from the freebie to the “premium” app. Brian’s didn’t work at all; mine did for awhile, then gave out. You can’t always trust these new-fangled electronic things! So we were on our own. That was OK. We headed out trusting our own instincts–with a little help from our (in this case trustworthy) GPS each time we lost our way. We started at Boston Common (1634), walked through the Central Burying Ground (1756), toured the Massachusetts State House (1797), checked out the boxed pews in the King’s Chapel (1689/1754), looked down on the site of the Boston Massacre (1770) and of course made a stop at Faneuil Hall (1742-1805), and much else. I included these dates because, to us Western Americans, they serve as reminders of the youth of this American nation when compared with European countries from which most of us came. They also point out our deep roots in the original colonies.
Joy and Suzette enjoyed some of the Freedom Walk also. They snapped these pictures–and many more.
Our Airbnb was in Somerville, a Boston suburb nestled against Cambridge, famous for many things besides higher education, not the least for being the home of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on NPR’s Car Talk, one of my favorite shows. It ran from 1977 to 2012, when Tom and Ray Magliozzi retired. You can still catch reruns. I gained most of my mechanical aptitude by listening to this program.
Cambridge offers an example of the kind of symbiosis to be found in older locales where grand old church buildings house diminishing congregations that can’t support their real estate, so they partner with other organizations for survival. Old Cambridge Baptist Church teamed up with the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre in 2000. The soaring spire of the 19th-century Gothic structure provides the backdrop for this ballerina; together they announce this edifice as a place that offers a space for worship and the fine arts. It appears to be a win-win partnership.
While in Chelmsford, our Massachusetts home, we received an email from Becky Ahlberg, a regular reader of this blog. It couldn’t have been more welcome. After reading our last post, she wrote, “I realized how close you are to Mike & Laure Close over in Pepperell, MA.” We didn’t know they were anywhere near us. I immediately called them. We were eager to visit the gifted woman who was CFO of Hope International University during most of my tenure as president. I used to tell her that I could sleep nights because she didn’t. She guided us through financial challenge after challenge, enabling us to end in the black 11 of the 13 years I was there. I owe her much.
So when she invited Joy and me to visit her and Mike we jumped at the chance.
They live less than an hour from Chelmsford. We spent four hours reminiscing about the “good old days,” catching up on family news, and
admiring their house and grounds. They have their very own pond, picturesquely nestled in the woods, complete with its own beaver dam and beaver, abuzz with enthusiastic mosquitoes.
The best part of our time together was Laure’s report on her recent cancer surgery and follow-up treatments. “I’m good,” she says of her health, and we believe her.
“I’m back in the saddle again, out where a friend is a friend.” People of my generation will remember Gene Autry’s signature song. It came to mind the day I met with the staff of Nashua’s Crossway Christian Church. Over pizza and sodas, this sharp church staff and I spent an hour-and-a-half talking church business. Actually, that’s not true. They spent that time patiently, politely listening to an old pastor pontificate. I don’t know about them, but I enjoyed the time immensely! They were good listeners. They’re also inspiring in their determination to serve their community in the name of Christ.
I will return on Thursday night and Sunday morning to preach for them.
JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS