I spent Boston’s most tragic and devastating day in more than a century on a couch more than 2,000 miles away, my eyes locked on the TV, my mind paralyzed with questions as to what the hell this world has come to.
As I type, I’m up 30,000 miles in the air — wearing a Red Sox hat that’s been glued to my head like some bizarro badge of honor since the moment I heard the news. I’m headed back to the state where I was born and raised, to the city where I’ve lived for the last nine years. It’s a city that I left five days ago, at a time when Boston appeared just about ready to make its annual transformation from a cold and depressing cloud of bitterness to one of the most enjoyable and inspiring cities on Earth. The snow was gone. Spring was finally breaking through. They’d just refilled the pond in the Public Garden. The bike racks had reemerged on street corners. Baseball was back. The Marathon was fast approaching. Life was good and only getting better.
When this plane lands, I’ll step off and find a Boston that’s forever changed in the most horribly unimaginable way.
There was a terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon.
* * *
I still can’t believe it’s true.
They detonated bombs at the finish line. They murdered children. They maimed innocent bystanders. They left this city with a scar that will never be erased and memories that will haunt us for eternity.
For those most directly affected by this atrocity there are no words except that we’re sorry and we love you and no matter what you need — to the best of our ability and then some — it’s yours. For the rest of us, there’s no way to consider what happened without feeling like a self-indulgent twit. The guilt over merely still having the fingers on my hand to type these words is so selfish and insignificant. But it’s there. And it’s not going away. Neither is the knowledge that if we didn’t know someone who was killed or injured yesterday afternoon, we know someone who was in that very spot five or ten minutes beforehand. We know people — some of the most important people in our lives — who were at the finish line at that very moment last year or the year before or at some point over the last 30 years. Why now? Why not then? What did we do to deserve this life? More importantly, what did THEY do to deserve losing it?
These questions are so hard to handle, if only because the answer is so pointless and infuriating.
It’s luck. It’s random. A reasonable answer doesn’t exist.
* * *
I should probably relate this to sports now, because that’s my job. And anyways, sports will (at least in some part) eventually help us through this.
It always does.
But we’re not ready yet.
How can we talk about sports when the guy sitting in front of me on this plane is talking about a fishing trip he had planned with his buddy this weekend — that’s now canceled because his buddy only has one leg? How can we talk about sports when just about every passenger within eyeshot is still locked into the news, watching the same horrific clips that have played on loop for the last 12 hours? How can we talk sports when there’s a graphic entitled “Boston Bombing” permanently emblazoned on the bottom left corner of CNN? When #prayforboston is still trending on Twitter? I don’t know.
But while we may not be quite ready, the same principles that make Boston one of the most passionate sports cities in this country will help us overcome this disaster. In so many ways, they already have.
Of course, this is just the beginning. But through the painful journey that lies ahead, there’s no doubt we’ll continue to put our differences aside — the same way we do any time any Boston team takes the field — and settle for nothing short of perfection. That Super Bowl-or-bust, World Series-or-bust, Stanley Cup-or-bust mentality we all hold so dear, and which at times comes across as so unhealthy and unrealistic, will be transferred into this city’s next great fight. Not for a ring or a duck-boat parade, but for peace and salvation.
Only this time, if we come up short, we won’t have the luxury of blaming failure on a referee or a general manager or a lazy, out-of-shape player. We’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
Which is why we WON’T fail. No matter how long it takes. Regardless of how much it hurts.
Naturally, it helps that we’re not alone. Over the last few hours, I’ve watched on the navigation screen as this plane has flown over Colorado (high above Columbine and Aurora) and just north of Oklahoma City. Pretty soon, we’ll pass by Newtown, CT and New York City. You look around, and all over the country, there are cities and people just like us dealing with this horrible pain. Caught between an inherent desire to believe that people are good, and loads of overwhelming evidence to support the contrary. But it’s not all bad. In sharing their pain, we can gain strength from their perseverance. We can trust that while these horrible memories will never fade, and the losses will never be justified, there is life after tragedy. There has to be. Because if we’re not making it better, we’re just making it worse. And Boston has too much pride for that. We won’t settle for anything less.
Honestly, part of me despises myself for that last paragraph.
It’s so idealistic. It’s so cliché. It sounds like a fairy tale when reality has us tied to a lamppost in hell. But honestly, now that we’re here: What choice do we have?
* * * *
The flight’s winding down now. Out the window, I can see Boston in the distance. The skyline looks the same, but I know how much has changed. I know the horrible things that happened here. I know how easy it would be for us all to give up.
But I also know that once this plane lands the world is going to pick up right where it left off. The snow will be gone. Spring weather will officially arrive. The pond will be glistening. Bikers will be all over the roads, driving you absolutely mad. Before the long, the Sox will be in the thick of the regular season. The Celtics and Bruins will be fighting for their playoff lives. At that point, sports will matter again. We’ll be right back to be rooting for them like crazy; to demanding the best of our teams, and settling for nothing less.
When it comes to dealing with this tragedy, let’s hold ourselves to that same standard. Because there’s no way we’ll let each other down.