We like to think of sports as a true fantasy. Uninfluenced by outside events, they are a separate reality from the harsh truth of the real world, governed by arbitrary and archaic rules, a visible ruler and outcomes determined exclusively by what goes on inside the arena as opposed to some sneakiness outside of it. In short, when we watch sports, we want to get sucked in. We want to be consumed by their spectacle. We want to escape from the real world.
Events like those of the last week tend to crush that idealistic vision. Tragedies like the one unfolding in Boston, tragedies that bring the real world into the sports world, tend to put everything into a stark perspective.
Many have argued that post-9/11 America has become desensitized to horrific violence. We cannot go even a few days without reading the almost-templated headline “Attacks in X kill Y, wound Z others.”
But most of the time we have no real idea of where those places are or what they are like. We foolishly tend to think of them as an entire world away, separated by circumstance and geography and ideology. We mourn the tragedy and the significant losses in human life, but we rarely stop to consider exactly how we would feel in those same shoes.
This time, things are different for me. I am a Bostonian by birth, and lived in Waltham, Mass., for 11 years before moving to California. The attacks on the Boston Marathon and the subsequent manhunt that spanned a night and a day were more tangible to me than anything else I can recall witnessing from afar.
I have proudly celebrated Patriot Day, one of the most irreverent of Boston sporting holidays, and widely derided as an excuse for the entirety of Massachusetts to get drunk before noon. It remains one of my favorite holidays. I have stood near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, run the last half-mile with my uncle, and stayed home from school to watch the early afternoon Red Sox game, which was much more fun before the era of the chicken and beer clubhouse.
And I know Boston well. When the news reports that a police officer was shot and killed in the line of duty at the corner of Vassar Street and Main Street, I know exactly where that is. I’ve spent entire afternoons less than a stone’s throw away from that very street corner.
When the pursuit finally ended, it was in Watertown, less than a few miles from my old home in Waltham. The harsh reality of the situation is that events aren’t unfolding half a world away; they are happening in places I know and love. That thought in and of itself is devastating.
Some events are just bigger than sports; the horrors of the past few days serve as a tragic example. Yesterday, all the major Boston sports teams were in action, and yet I took only a passing glance at the scores. I was still digesting exactly what had happened when I received a call from a close childhood friend from Boston.
I picked up the phone and asked what was up, if everyone was okay. My friend responded, “Dude, everyone’s fine. But did you see the Celtics game? The Knicks must have paid off the refs or something.” I stared blankly for a few seconds before bursting into uncontrollable laughter.
This is the notorious strength of Boston. I am convinced something in the water there makes people unshakeable. No matter what the circumstances are, the hearty guarantee is that the people of Massachusetts will persevere and endure. Stubbornness is in their DNA, along with an unwillingness to give up without a fight. That is the true power of the New England community. It is that power that gives me great hope for the future. Time is the greatest healer of all; by this time next year, I pray that all wounds are healed, all loose ends tied up and all hatred dissipated. And I know that next year’s Boston Marathon won’t just happen, but that it will be a festive, joyous and happy affair. The strong spirits of the people of Boston all but guarantee that.
Viggy Venkataraman is “Boston Strong” without having a Boston accent. To congratulate him on having the best of both worlds, email him at viggy “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @ViggyFresh.