By Jason Keidel
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You don’t have to be a New Yorker to relate. But it helps.
Though one day dwarfs the other in a strict, scientific sense, the symmetry is unavoidable — starting with the weather.
A pristine spring day in Boston morphed into a montage of blasts, shards, shrieks and blood-smeared faces. And a town draped in Old Glory turned into a citywide crime scene, our flag replaced by police tape.
The symbolism, of course, is galling. Killing kids on Patriots’ Day isn’t accidental, splashing blood across the blue sky, the rhythmic thump of a runner’s heart and the operatic cheer at Fenway Park stifled by the high-pitch horror of terror.
More than the obvious effect of death, the goal is confusion — turning the three-pronged celebration of a marathon, baseball and integration into a theater of chaos. Boston was a buffet of celebrations poisoned by sick people who won’t ever understand why we’re better than they are.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that we aren’t Democrats or Republicans, but rather Americans. He is correct, even if that reality is far too ephemeral. As soon as we find the culprits we will retreat back to our political and philosophical nooks, cackling over crime and punishment.
That’s why we turn to sports, which double as a spiritual balm. Sports lack ambiguity, and at times like this we need the comforting clarity of wins and losses and the aesthetic splendor of Jason Kidd’s bounce pass or Kobe Bryant’s fadeaway or LeBron James soaring and jamming at the end of a flawless fast break.
We will hear a number of talking heads pour platitudes into our living rooms — specious ballads about harmony and patriotism and helping your fellow man. But not all of it is hollow. Indeed, Rudy Giuliani was right when he urged us to resume our lives — at least to the extent that we can — inching toward a routine.
Maybe it’s too soon this second, but by tomorrow we will clamor for sports, for the soothing transaction of a three-pointer, the staccato squeak of sneakers, the crisp crack of a bat meeting a ball, the outfielder huffing toward the wall while the batter gallops around first base.
There’s no need to swerve into the wrong cultural lane, to belch some existential monologue about good and God and evil. Too many people will spout the circular rhetoric about why “they” hate us, from loathing our native hubris to secret envy of our universal mien of inclusion. It’s beyond this trivial sportswriter’s pay grade.
But we do know, on some level, that sports can heal, or at least center us when we lose balance. Just the distant connection that comes from watching a game we played as children leaves us bathed in memories. Remember a home run from Mike Piazza while the embers still churned downtown…
For many of us, sports are the most important baton passed down the generations. Talking to my old man yesterday, the conversation reflexively veered into football. Once we waded through the tragedy in Boston, the Steelers were the next topic. It’s all we know, as primitive as that sounds.
Goodness knows that most of us don’t want to hear a celebrity pontificate from a party or a polished desk, only to duck into a limo taking them to their penthouse, lathered in some trendy motif. We’d rather watch Matt Harvey pitch to Bryce Harper.
To the elitist who can’t see sports through the smoke of incense and can’t hear the cheers over their wind chimes, this is for the proletarian, the blue-collar stiff born with a hard-hat ethos, the man and woman who really make the world a worthwhile affair.
The meat of humanity was on the ground helping victims, wrapping a wound, holding a hand, pulling a gurney, saving a life. We salute you. They can kill a person, but not a collective. And that’s what we are. And hopefully the heroes and survivors will find time to reward themselves with a ballgame, no matter their sporting allegiance.
We Americans are a resilient bunch — dare we say great? — because of Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson: people who represent infinitely more than their stats. We are supremely flawed yet sublimely gifted, the closest thing to an authentic melting pot that the world will ever know.
And that’s why we win, even when it appears we’ve lost.
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