Healing effects of sports

I was 10 at the time so I couldn’t really comprehend the gravity of what had happened.

That isn’t to say I don’t remember it; the memories are quite vivid.

The images in my head are as clear as the sky was that morning, but the weight of what I was seeing on the television screen in my living room, of the looks on my parent’s faces, somehow failed to resonate in me the way they should have.

As I sat and absorbed the images of the attacks at last week’s Boston Marathon I – like many others – was immediately taken back to September 11, 2001.

Except this time I felt what then eluded me. This time I could feel the weight of such senseless evil pressing down upon me; for a moment draining my faith in the world and inciting cynicism in humanity.

But these low moments of despair eventually pass for all of us. Days like September 11th 2001 stay with us for our entire life, but the acuteness of the pain eventually dissipates, leaving scars that grow fainter day-by-day.

It is incredible that most of us can heal from such traumatic moments. In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy like last week it certainly feels like we never will recover.

But when all feels hopeless, it is useful to reflect on how we have recovered in the past in order to move forward toward a bright future.

The night was September 21, 2001. The New York Mets were hosting the Atlanta Braves in the first sporting event in New York City just ten days removed from the darkest day in the city’s—and nation’s—history.

Before the game, tributes to the fallen and the first-responders stirred overwhelming emotion in those who were in attendance and those watching from home.

As the players from both teams stood on the baselines as the national anthem was sung – donning caps stitched with FDNY and NYPD rather than the traditional team logos – the television cameras had a difficult time finding anyone without tears in their eyes.

The sound of our nation’s anthem has never been more hauntingly beautiful.

The Mets trailed that game for most of the evening, leaving the fans with little to cheer about for the majority of the game.

But in the bottom of the eighth inning – down by one run – their best player, Mike Piazza, came to bat with a man on base.

As the ball Piazza hit soared into the New York City night, the stadium erupted in a type of joy that I can’t quite describe with words. It was a bottled up euphoria, a finally found bliss that had been lost for too long.

It was numbing, it was beautiful, it was surreal and it was medicine.

When Mike Piazza hit that ball out of Shea Stadium New Yorkers remembered what it felt like to feel happiness once again.

More than winning the World Series in 1969 and 1986, this moment was the most important in the history of the New York Mets.

For millions of Americans, sport it is a respite from the many inconveniences, difficulties and tragedies of life.

If only for a moment, it can divert our minds from our troubles in a way that little else can. In bringing together complete strangers to support a common purpose it is uniting.

For cities like New York and Boston, sports are engrained in our cultural DNA. When the troubles of daily life face us we often look to our teams for moments of peace.

And this dependence for distraction is magnified ten-fold when we are faced with days like April 15th.

Boston will recover; the people that live there are some of the strongest in the country.

And I am certain that in the recovery process the purpose of teams like the Bruins, the Red Sox and the Celtics will take on new meaning.

The emotion of the Bruins first playoff game in TD garden will likely trump that of a Stanley Cup Finals game.

And as a New York Sports fan—normally sworn enemy of the Boston sports nation—I almost hope they win the cup this year.

Because I know what that would mean to the people of Boston and to the country as a whole.

It would go miles in healing that city and it would give them moments of joy that will melt away part of their pain in much the same way Mike Piazza did for New Yorkers twelve years before.

In our search for answers and outlets of healing we all seek different things.

For cities like New York and Boston, sport is synonymous with distraction. And in the wake of such horrific tragedy, synonymous with healing.

It is amusing to me when people emphatically insist that sports is just a game. How could that be so?

In times like this, we see evidence that, in fact, they mean so much more.