WILMINGTON -- They say that Boston is the smallest big city in America.
Most days that feels very true, and it’s one of the best parts about calling yourself a Bostonian. Most days you can’t walk the streets without bumping into somebody you know, or become flooded with a million different, enriching memories while ambling around some of the more iconic landmarks.
Marathon Monday is always one of those “small city” kind of days, and Boylston Street is always one of those areas in Boston. You’re constantly bumping into people you went to high school with, or spotting a marathon runner on the street you used to work with on State Street 10 years ago.
Anybody who's ever watched the marathon -- and anybody who's lived in Boston, at one point or another -- has reveled in the festive atmosphere of triumph as runners, many of whom are traveling the 26.2 miles for one charitable endeavor or another, reunite with their friends and families at the downtown finish line. Everyone's smiling ear to ear. To call it’s the city's best and purest of sports days is to describe perfectly, whether one experiences it at Kenmore Square or Heartbreak Hill or anywhere along the route.
No act of evil can ever wipe out that good feeling. No unthinkable act of terror will chase the many thousands of spectators off the streets. That -- along with the courageous actions of first responders, marathon volunteers and runners with military or police training -- are the overwhelming positives that have emerged 24 hours after Boston was knocked off its collective feet.
There’s no denying the hurt, the pain, the sorrow, the fear and the anger coursing through the veins of every person who calls himself or herself a Bostonian. These are all common emotions in mourning or distress, and it’s the method most will need to help process such a despicable act of cowardice that never be fully understood.
But there are feelings of healing, as well. Those powers can be derived from any number of places and there’s no doubt the world of professional sports has always helped cities endure these unspeakable incidents, which are becoming way too commonplace.
Nobody is going to compare the marathon bombing to 9/11 in terms of sheer scope of the tragedy. But the methods used to rebound from that tragedy can be instructive . . . and the world of sports, Major League Baseball and the NFL played a big part in the healing process 11 1/2 years ago.
Who can forget the New York Yankees' march to the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks less than two months after 9/11, or New York Mets players like Mike Piazza and John Franco donning “FDNY” hats in tribute to the first responders?
The Boston Red Sox have just begun a new season with a refreshing clubhouse full of personalities that the city is connecting with, and both the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins are poised to begin their playoff runs. The city is ripe with enthusiasm and affection for their sports teams.
Nobody will soon forget the electric atmosphere throughout the city of Boston when the Bruins ripped off 16 wins in the Stanley Cup playoffs two years. It’s easy to remember how one dramatic playoff run turned an entire city of people into one collective hand waving a Black and Gold flag. That feeling of community and togetherness is exactly what is needed in times of despair, and that’s exactly the kind of responsibility the Bruins are happy to help shoulder less than two weeks away from this year’s postseason run.
“We represent the city of Boston and we want to make sure we represent them well,” said B's coach Claude Julien. “All you can do is go out there and give it all you’ve got. Whether it gives a little bit of joy or excitement to some people, it’s going to take a while to heal from this. We don’t expect tomorrow to be the day that everything’s going to be okay. But you’ve got to start somewhere and tomorrow’s a great time for us to go out there and play our hearts out for all the right reasons.”
It won’t make everything better or heal the catastrophic wounds that people are coping with, of course.
But it can make people smile and tingle with excitement, and that is exactly what the city of Boston needs after 24 straight hours of weeping and shaking their collective fists at an unknown evil.
“That is why we play: To entertain and bring joy to people’s lives,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I’m talking about all of the time when we play and bring emotion to show what it is to be Boston Bruins. I don’t think this will be any different. It’s a big tragedy and there aren’t many words that can be said right now. It’s saying prayers and keeping those people in our thoughts.
“In times like these we need to make sure we bring even more, and bring some happiness during the tough times.”
Andrew Ference’s family was down by the Boylston Street finish line, and he had the unenviable task of explaining the good and evil in this world to his daughters when they were shaken by Monday’s events. Suffice to say everything hit Ference squarely in his heart, and it will be meaningful when he again dons the Black and Gold Bruins sweater. It’s a city that’s become Ference’s year-round home during his seven years with the Bruins, and he hurts right along with everybody else.
“You’re proud that so many people are helping out, and you’re happy when you hear back from people that they’re okay,” said Ference. “But you know other people are getting different news. This happened to people that we know, and places that we go . . . so you support them any way you can. In this town sports are woven into this city. In the room today I know a lot of guys feel awful and kind of helpless.
“But I also know they want to help any way they can. [Sports] can bring people together. It’s not about forgetting what happened. It’s about some sense of community where we can all get together and celebrate what’s good. Do those things that are a very important part of this city and this region. It may be trivial to some people, but for a lot of people the sports teams in this town are a reason for people to get together with family or friends . . . and to feel good about things.”
The Boston Bruins are championship-caliber and beloved among the sports fans of Boston, and they have a unique opportunity to transcend toward something much bigger and greater than the world of sports. The B’s have a Black-and-Golden chance to inspire Bostonians and help them through some very dark days ahead.
The Bruins have a chance to do something truly great for a city of Boston that loves them so very much.
Let’s hope it grows into the sports fairy tale that everybody around here now deserves so very badly.