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By Thomas Brennan

BOSTON — The world is in a state of upheaval and Boston is no exception. Yet, even with empty streets, businesses closing doors, and people sealing themselves inside as part of the quarantining efforts, Boston is finding a way to maintain its spirit and fun in the face of a greater challenge.

Commonwealth Avenue’s colors are often limited to the grey of the cement walkway, the green of the grass, and the brown of the trees, (with an occasional flash of white from a certain legendary squirrel), but in the wake of quarantine there’s been a dash of brighter colors. Kindness rocks have been scattered along several points along Commonwealth avenue. Carrying refreshing bits of lively painted colors with either a painted picture, or an encouraging message.

Kindness Rocks on Commonwealth Mall. Photo by Thomas Brennan

The initial kindness rocks project was started years ago by Megan Murphy, but since then it has taken on a life of its own as a national movement that has made its way to Boston when needed most.

Among the many themes of the Kindness Rocks are words of encouragement for frontline workers. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Quite a few of the painted stones relate to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, providing encouraging messages for frontline workers who are being heroic and providing much needed service in these critical times. What they’re doing is not just heroic, but stands as the epitome of the conviction of humanity and the indomitable nature of the American spirit.

There are quite a few stones commemorating some of Boston’s other moments of fortitude in the face of hardship. A stone bearing Big Papi’s now legendary quote “THIS IS OUR F***ING CITY!” calls back to when Boston came together after two bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, April 15, seven years ago, killing three and injuring hundreds. Seeing this message is an empowering reminder of what the city has survived before and is capable of surviving again.

Big Papi’s words still ring true in Boston. Photo by Thomas Brennan

In these times masks are critical, and part of the necessary steps in preventing spread of the virus. Masks are more than an option, they’re outright essential. This new practice (for most of us, that is) of wearing masks can carry some level of insecurities and anxiety but only until you realize how much such measures are needed. Other stones are providing compliments to those taking the safety measures of wearing masks, proving cautious and considerate has become the new fashionable.

A small reminder of the space between us. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Many of the messages on these Kindness Rocks are tied into empowering boosts such as “BE BRAVE” and “ONE STEP AT A TIME.” Though there are more specific references and compliments amongst the bunch. A pair of kindness rocks with a paw print and a heart were put alongside the memorial treat bucket in honor of the late Commonwealth Mall dog, Woodrow. Seeing the memory of a resident dog treated so kindly and paid such kind tribute is more than heartwarming for any passersby, whether they are walking their own dog or not.

Boston has always been a sports centric city as well. Sports events have been the lifeblood of people coming together and enjoying an ongoing event. Even with sports seasons shut down it’s no surprise symbols of Patriots and the Celtics mascots are scattered amongst the kindness rocks, one even calling for the return of a certain high-profile athlete.

The Celtics get some love.
The quarterback formerly known as TB12 gets some love.
And the Patriots’ “Flying Elvis” fits on a Kindness Rock. Photos by Thomas Brennan

Most people have been practicing social distancing for only a few weeks, but these iconic ladies of Boston history, Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley have been seemingly practicing social-distancing since they first returned to Commonwealth avenue 18 years ago. The three women have always been symbols of the great power and potential of the people of Boston. Set several feet apart the statues have been one of the prolific landmarks for the women’s history of Boston.

Sensible even in the figure, the Boston Women’s Memorial is a picture of social distancing.
Ah, Abigail Adams always had a great deal of sense.
Poet Phillis Wheatley showed courage more than 250 years ago and some support for those vulnerable populations.

The Wheatley statue carries that message in another kindness rock with writing “BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE” placed alongside Phyllis’s quill, representing her groundbreaking work as a poet during the Revolution. 

Lucy Stone, suffragist, abolitionist, and orator, was known for her no-nonsense style in the mid-19th century and her statue is showing some practicality today. Photos by Thomas Brennan

Even as statues these women are still making history as the first statues to don face masks, reminding passersby the necessity of minimizing the spread of germ transmission. They apparently started a trend amongst other statues in Boston: Antonio Mendez’s statue, Teammates, depicting Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Don DiMaggio is also ready for action with the famed baseball stars sporting bandanas as well as baseball caps. 

The Teammates outside Fenway Park. Here’s hoping that social distancing gives us even a truncated season at the old ballyard on Van Ness Street. Photo by Thomas Brennan

Boston’s spirit is still going strong even in these tumultuous times. These kindness stones and additions to local statutes might be small features, but they’re powerful symbols and reminders for the people of Boston. These efforts display that ultimately the way forward is founded in optimism, practicality, caution and strong will of a united community.

For more information on the Kindness Rock Project, click here.

 

SONIC ARBORETUM

SonicArboretumNewsflash: your hobby is boring. Because with all due respect, it probably doesn’t compare to the long, arduous hours that sculptor Ian Schneller put into this project, an installation of over 30 colorful horn speakers he made from strange odds and ends like dryer lint and baking soda. What do they play? Why, composer Andrew Bird’s 50-minute whistle- and violin-driven composition “Echolocations,” originally recorded in a canyon to capture unique reverberations. Sorry, but your decoupage project pales in comparison.

WHERE: The Institute of Contemporary Art

WHEN: February 4 — May 10

 

RENÉE FLEMING

Renée_Fleming_-_Poèmes_2_cropped_-_credit_Andrew_Eccles,_Decca

Pianist Olga Kern joins the famed soprano for this Celebrity Series performance. Fleming’s powerhouse vocals will be front and center for a recital tour that includes operatic arias alongside favorite classics from the Great American Songbook. We’re crossing our fingers for a few selections from “Dark Hope,” the diva’s genre-defying album that offered sultry, jazz-inflected covers of songs as disparate as Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.”

WHERE: Symphony Hall

WHEN: February 8

 

GREEN PORNO, LIVE ON STAGE

GreenPorno - Credit-Mario del Curto

Mercifully, this has nothing to do with a new sustainability campaign from Kim Kardashian. (Exhale, everyone.) Rather, it’s a one-woman show from Isabella Rossellini, based on a series of short films that the actress-model created for the Sundance Channel. Armed with an arsenal of whimsical props and cheeky costumes, Rossellini offers a zoology class on the bizarre mating rituals of insects and marine life, sort of like “Sesame Street” for the kinky set. Sex-based provocation is nothing new to Rossellini, who made a curious cameo in Madonna’s infamous 1992 coffee table book, “Sex,” and this uproarious, oddity-filled evening sounds like the perfect Valentine’s Day surprise for irreverent lovebirds.

greenporno - Credit-Mario del Curto

WHERE: Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre

WHEN: February 13 — 15

Carol Beggy, styleboston editor at large, teamed up with renowned Boston photographer Bill Brett again for “Boston: Irish,” a 304-page book that was just released from Three Bean Press. It is their fifth collaboration together. We’ve selected 15 images from the 266 black-and-white photographs of those in the city’s Irish-American community from the book. “Boston: Irish” is available area stores and on Amazon.com.

Tom Brady

Tom Brady

The three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback is proud of his Irish roots and spoke about them at length to reporters when the New England Patriots played at Wembley Stadium in Great Britain in 2009. Tom is shown at an annual event at Harvard Stadium that he hosts to support the non-profit organization Best Buddies International.

Dennis Lehane and his wife Angie

Dennis Lehane and his wife Angie

“Most of my books are odes to sections of one city,” author Dennis Lehane told a television crew about his fascination with Boston, his hometown. He is the author of a dozen books, three of which – “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island” – were turned into movies.

Boston Police Gaelic Column

Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes & Drums

Founded in 1992, this group represents law enforcement from around the region. The members can trace their roots back to a half-dozen counties in Ireland. Among their many accomplishments is the distinction of leading Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade each year.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh

Mayor Martin J. Walsh

That Marty Walsh’s campaign to be the 54th mayor of Boston grew from support in his Dorchester neighborhood to a broad coalition that included every part of the city was never more evident than on election night November 5, 2013.

Dan McCole

Dan McCole

A watercolorist and illustrator from South Boston, Dan uses his considerable talent to document familiar Boston scenes and capture the Ireland (and Boston) he remembers.

Maureen Feeney, Michael F. Flaherty, and Stephen J. Murphy

Maureen Feeney, Michael F. Flaherty, and Stephen J. Murphy

For his inauguration, Mayor Walsh called upon Yo-Yo Ma to play during the ceremony at the Conte Forum at Boston College. The famed cellist artfully managed to play “Danny Boy” between more classical selections. City Clerk Maureen Feeney and City Councilors Michael F. Flaherty and Stephen J. Murphy are shown on stage listening to the performance.

Diarmuid and Sara O'Neill

The O’Neill Family

Sara and Diarmuid O’Neill, both Irish immigrants, met while working at Irish bars in downtown. The couple, who now own The Squealing Pig, the Tavern at the End of the World and others, adopted four children from Ethiopia. The children are, from left, Rahel, 7; Bezawit, 10; Selamawit, 8; “and, finally, our wee boy is Andualem, and he is five,” Sara said.

Joe Fallon

Joe Fallon

The development of the South Boston waterfront as a thriving new hub of the city seems so obvious in 2014, but, just 10 years earlier, there were many who thought that Joe Fallon was taking a huge risk trying to build where others had failed. Joe’s Fan Pier project is located between the Moakley Federal Courthouse and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Joey McIntyre

Joey McIntyre

This actor and singer does a lot of charity work, but his support of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear is personal. As parents of a child with severe hearing loss, Joey and his wife, Barrett, are supporters of Mass Eye and Ear’s Curing Kids Fund and its annual gala.

Sister Evelyn Hurley

Sister Evelyn Hurley

The first thing Bill Brett noticed about Sister Evelyn Hurley, SCN, who was walking in South Boston, was her coat, which she knitted herself. The city marked the nun’s 99th birthday by naming March 7m 2014, Sister Evelyn Hurley Day in Boston.

Tommy MacDonald

Tommy MacDonald

This charismatic creator and host of WGBH-TV’s “Rough Cut: Woodworking with Tommy Mac” was born the eighth of nine children to hardworking parents in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.

Margery Eagan

Margery Eagan

After 27 years as a reporter and columnist for the Boston Herald, Margery Eagan joined The Boston Globe in July 2014 as a columnist for its Catholicism-news website, Crux. Margery and Jim Braude host a three-hour weekday issues talk show on WGBH-FM.

The Wahlberg Family

The Wahlberg Family

When Donnie and Mark Wahlberg walked the red carpet with their mother, Alma, on this occasion in 2013, it was to celebrate the work of their brother Chef Paul Wahlberg and the opening of the family’s first Wahlburgers restaurant.

Kay Hanley

Kay Hanley

She has performed all over the world, but Kay Hanley remains at heart an Irish-Catholic girl from Dorchester. “It’s who I am to my marrow,” says the singer who is best known for her time with the alternative band Letters to Cleo.

Barbara Lynch

Barbara Lynch

A leader in Boston’s culinary community, Barbara Lynch didn’t always have an easy path to success. She grew up in the Mary Ellen McCormack Housing Project and now oversees a $25-million restaurant group that includes No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters, and Menton.

Sonny & Cher

Sonny and Cher broke up.  Then Donnie and Marie went off the air. That’s when I knew the world wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I was alone. I was adrift among boring people who were not a little bit country, nor were they a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. They didn’t have long, black, sleek hair and narrow waists and tiny slits for belly buttons. It was a sad world. I wasn’t with raconteurs who could playfully banter back and forth. The world I was in moved slowly and lacked rhythm and sludged along like a broken worm.

I was eight. I knew I needed excitement. I knew that there was more out there than puffy cheese bake and my sister’s hand-me-downs. It was right there on the part TV/ part table: sitting right under Grandma Barbara’s ceramic Christmas tree was a cathode ray window to a life bursting with possibility and sequins and feathered hair.

I lay my head back on my Wonder Woman pillowcase and pulled my blue and white striped blanket that my great-grandma Ellen had knitted for me up to my chin. She was 95. The oldest person I ever knew. She said that if she ever went blind and couldn’t knit, she’d rather die. I thought that was a fair thing to say because it was clear that she loved to knit. She had knitted blankets for all of my nine brothers and sisters.  Eventually, she did go blind and she did die.

I stared up to the plaster ceiling – the one with the swirls and points that looks like frosting.  I thought, “How do I get out of here?” I looked at my pink record player spinning unevenly and the needle doing its best on a warped surface as it played the soundtrack from “Bambi.” It was about the twelfth time I’d played it. I didn’t particularly like it, but it was the only record I had. It was the day after Christmas. I had opened the “Bambi” record just as my older sister, Sue, was opening her “Grease” album. I thought that was a really stupid thing for my Mom to do. I liked “Grease,” too. I just wasn’t allowed to see the movie because it was too racy. “Bambi” was for babies.  Sue told me all about the movie anyway and the pictures on the album told the story. There was this proper looking pretty girl in bobby socks and saddle shoes who transformed into a sexy, leather-wearing, wild-haired bombshell. I didn’t get it. Killing Bambi’s mother was ok? The mere thought of it put a giant lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow past.

So, after Sonny and Cher and Donny and Marie, I guess the record was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew I had to run away. But how? Even though Br’er Bear told Br’er Rabbit, “You can’t run away from trouble.” I knew I needed to get the hell out of dodge.

This place, where I had to pick up after myself, where my sister got better presents under the tree, where my brothers were getting too strong to wrestle and where life was drab and dull and you could get in trouble for just sticking your finger in the peanut butter jar, was clearly not for me. Everyone else was downstairs playing with their new toys.

Brother on big wheels

I could hear my brother riding his Big Wheel down the hall and “Bambi” was not doing a good job drowning out “Grease.”  My sister had it blaring on the stereo in the living room and she was practicing her ballet recital to “Summer Nights.”  The smell of the pot roast wafted up the stairs and into my room.

I thought about things that would be practical to take. A couple of bathing suits, my favorite Barbie, my piggy bank. I had been saving up for this day. The piggy bank was going to be a problem because it was really heavy and about the size of a football. My brothers had claimed I stole a lot of the coins from their room but I didn’t consider it stealing when my life was at stake and my future hung on a teetering see saw in the balance.

Christy, pre-runaway

No one even noticed when I tip-toed down the stairs, carefully skipping the step that made a loud creak. I hated hats and mittens. They just made me itch. I did have my sister’s hand-me-down plaid coat with a hood and her hand-me-down Barbie rubber boots. I closed the door quietly just as my brother, wearing a Daniel Boone hat with the raccoon tail came roaring down the hall on his Big Wheel.

“Why do you want to run away?” My mom had spotted me out the kitchen window. I hadn’t planned my exit strategy that well. I should have used the back door. She approached me in the yard just at the edge of the woods; because I wasn’t “running away”, I was just walking away. Her moo moo was see-through and her arms had goose bumps since she had only draped one of the many afghan blankets across her shoulders. Her rabbit slippers barely covered her feet.

She eased herself down on the bench to the picnic table. She moved like she was pregnant even though she wasn’t. My younger brother was five.

Words couldn’t form so I just shrugged my shoulders to my ears. “Are you upset?” I could see she was mocking me.  “Are you not happy here?” I stared at her but there were so many problems I didn’t know where to start. “Well,” she said, “What did you pack? Can I see?” I handed over my fairy princess suitcase. She unclicked the latches and the hinges splayed open on the frozen front lawn revealing the satin pink fabric inside and my important belongings. She started to smile but caught herself because she knew she was this close to losing her ninth child to the unknown. “There’s not much in here to stay warm at night.” She was right. I had actually meant to grab my Black Beauty sleeping bag but forgot. “And, what about food?” I glanced at my piggy bank. “Oh, that was smart.” I nodded.  “But maybe you should get some food from the pantry in case you’re walking a long time before you get to a store.” She rose from the bench and I got a faint hint of her sweet mom smell as she moved.  I followed her into the house. “Maybe we should make those Christmas cookies we never got around to making.” She held the door for me.  “You could take them with you.” My Mom’s tone was fun. Even excited. I knew that cookies weren’t practical for running away and a box of cereal would be better but I was actually hungry. I could almost taste the cookie dough. “I will run away another time,” I thought.