On Boston, Terror and Sports



It was difficult for me to watch the first-person video and footage of the bombs going off in Boston on Monday. Understandably the news networks, still mostly confused and yet reporting nearly every shred of information, true or not, were hungry for such video. It allowed the viewer a nearly bystander point of view, and nothing for a newscast is better than that.

But after the networks showed the video roughly 30 times in succession, highlighting the two blasts with ovals and discussing the visible injuries and shocks to the body of runners passing just in front of the first blast, I had to stop watching. Some deep post-traumatic stress kick in and I felt myself turning inward. There is only one thing that resides in that place, and it’s very rare that I ever go there. It’s buried, subsumed, forcibly forgotten by design. It’s a scar covered in layers of years and avoidance and the power of the mind to press on.

It was not lost on me that there were two blasts. In my memory, terror comes in pairs.  Twelve years ago I, and every friend I had and many I didn’t have, were victims in our own right. Some of us were there, some of us were near, none of us were spared. We never discuss it because we can’t. Unlike so many things in life, talking it out did no good. There was no way to work through it, so you didn’t. You bought another round of bourbons. You winked without winking. You buried it deeper.

My own experience with terror was surreal. No disaster movie could remotely capture the abject horror–the unsettling dream-like vista–of that day, a crystalline sky laid waste to plumes of dark smoke, the movement of the masses a tide of lost innocence and a cratered false sense of safety. I paused midway across the Manhattan Bridge, made a point of turning around to witness the moment, to soak in what even then I knew was a distinct, lucid frame in the cinema of my life. Chaos, fear, primordial fear, guttural fear, shattered pieces of time. I couldn’t look away. I scanned the burning horizon, trapped in the moment, a child in a dark room, my ears closed to the cries and sirens and the incessant boom-boom-boom of an army of feet on metal.

Then just as quickly I turned and walked on. But that part of me stayed there. It would never leave. It never has.

The victims of the attacks in Boston aren’t simply those who lost lives, limbs and peace there. They aren’t just the witnesses and the bystanders and the first responders. They are also those who return to forgotten selves, to those who sought solace in silence. Because that’s entirely the point.

The bombings in Boston were designed to maximize exposure. (Dan Lampariello/DobsonAgency/Rex)
The bombings in Boston were designed to maximize exposure. (Dan Lampariello/DobsonAgency/Rex)

Terrorism isn’t an event. It’s a series of events meant to sow fear in you, a timeline of death and chaos that keeps you cowering and forces you to act. That’s the perpetrators’ design, be they domestic or international. It doesn’t matter. The only purpose of these acts is to create a narrative of loss such that you will never return, you cannot return and yet you will. Over and over and over again.

But you can move on. When baseball decided to continue while the rubble of downtown Manhattan still burned into the night, it was more than symbolic. It was therapy. Sports is not just games. It’s not simply winners and losers and statistics and concessions. It’s not fantasy and it’s not only entertainment. Yes it is those things, but that cheapens the impact and simplifies its innate construct. Sports is our world writ small. It’s a representation of our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s theatre, melodrama we can control by time, space, white lines demarcating what is in and what’s out. Boundaries keep viewers and performers separate, but everyone intimately linked.

It’s no accident the bombs were set at the marathon. How else to maximize the coverage? For what do Americans watch and engage in more than sports? Politics, perhaps. But politics is angry, rhetorical and all too real. Rather sports is what we love about life, it’s the joy and the sadness but passing in time, replaced by future events, remembered only in terms of glory or failure, but never in horror.

When the Red Sox next take the field or the Bruins the ice, there will be ceremonies to commemorate the moment and honor the victims. They were be transmitted across the world even as they are proceedings for those in the arena. They are done to heal the traumatized, to begin the process of moving on. Though those directly affected will never truly do so.

Terrorism isn’t about to let that happen. That’s what too many people forget because it makes things easier. Terrorism will never end. It has been with us always in schemes large and small, discoteque bombings and train bombings and handgun deaths and torture and the tangled web of death we reap and sow. But so, too, do sports continue. As long as humans have sought civilization, they have also sought games that challenged their bodies and distracted their minds and fulfilled their hearts. It’s what they are supposed to do. It’s what they will always do.

It’s a disgusting truth that terror may forever be a razing of the temporal, a killing joke. But in the end humanity, and sports with it, will still ever reign.


Originally from Kentucky, Joshua Lars Weill has written for GQ, Yahoo! Sports, The Classical and The Awl. He lives and writes in Washington, DC. Follow him on twitter @AgonicaBoss.