There’s a lot wrong with sports culture. There’s the enormous load of pressure we put on children from a very young age. And the blind-eye that football and hockey have turned towards traumatic brain injury. But at its best, and I’m not breaking any new ground here, athletic competition gives us a forum to congregate and participate in a shared human experience. From the reverent, meditative silence of a golf course to the near-constant clamor of a basketball court, the experience of watching a sporting event can mimic the practice of spiritual communion.
Last night, the Boston Bruins played their first home game since the tragic explosions during Monday’s Boston Marathon. Rene Rancourt, the Bruins’ customary singer of the national anthem made it through the first few bars of “The Star Spangled Banner,” before the stadium full of 15,000+ fans took over. The crowd belted out a moving and surprisingly on-key rendition of the anthem.
When I saw the footage late last night, tears squirmed down my cheeks. I don’t cry often. That’s not a proclamation of some kind of masculine stoicism. It’s more of a deficiency, really. I tend to put enough distance between tragedy and myself that events rarely wound me in the kind of gripping, immediate way that wrings out tears. This week has been different. From the time I found out about Monday’s bombing to the time I went to sleep, tears bled from the corners of my eyes without announcement. The trickle that came unannounced. I could barely tell it was happening until I put a hand to my damp face.
Last night was different. For the first time, I felt the warm, feverish pooling of tears and the calm, cathartic release. The onrush of emotion made sense. I’d been avoiding most of the sensory media coverage. I read about the bombings, sure, but I steered away from gory pictures and dramatic television coverage. My sister had been close to the finish line when the bombs went off but was evacuated safely. Two men from my hometown had limbs amputated. The tragedy was already close enough to my heart, I reasoned. There was no need to bring it any nearer.
Watching the entire TD Garden erupt into song overwhelmed me. It didn’t matter what the song was, though the overcoming of “bombs bursting in air” resonated more than it ever has. The arena could have broken out into “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and I still would have cried. The important part was that everyone sang together, loudly and without self-consciousness. Thousands of people with little in common (except an interest in watching men sling a black disc through metal pipes) joined together to announce their solidarity in a time of despair.
Even if you haven’t thrown a ball for decades or have never heard of Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask or generally oppose broad displays of nationalism, this video is worth the time it takes to watch. It’s a reminder of the power of community and the value of shared experience, the resilience of the people of Boston and the synaptic, collaborative nature of being human.