Neil Diamond

Sitting down to write this feels surreal. It’s a sad exercise in contrast, and it’s one that I don’t undertake lightly.

Not two hours after I published my last post — a quick few hundred words about how thankful I am to the people who cheer on Monument 10K runners — a pair of bombs were detonated in the crowds lining the last mile of the Boston Marathon, killing at least three people and injuring more than a hundred. I went from the euphoria of telling the Internet about something that brings out the best in my city to watching the very worst of humanity in action, working to strip another city of the euphoria I’d just been enjoying. It was an awful and strange sequence of events.

In the grand scheme of things, which is always worth considering, this coincidence matters little. I took a look at my post, decided there wasn’t a compelling reason to take it down and continued checking Facebook to make sure my Boston-based friends were safe and sound. Because that’s what really matters. People matter. Everything else is secondary, including road races, blog posts and whatever motive drove the person or persons who built and detonated those improvised explosive devices.

That said, there’s something particularly disturbing about the decision to unleash this kind of terror at the very end of a marathon course. I just couldn’t stop thinking about that aspect of what had just taken place, and I was having trouble putting a finger on why it was bugging me so much, until one of my favorite music writers posted the following thought to Twitter:

Jeremy Larson tweet

…which makes the whole thing either incredibly senseless or incredibly insidious.

Marathons are celebrations of human achievement — of humanity itself — and the people who complete them are representatives of some of the most laudable qualities we’re capable of embracing. Courage. Discipline. Determination. Sacrifice. These traits are unimpeachable, regardless of national origin, race, ideology or any other line you could draw between one group of people and another. Sure, on some level, it’s just a bunch of people in Nikes running really far. But crowds gather — along the marathon route in Boston and along Monument Avenue in Richmond — for a most sacred reason: these achievements give us hope. They’re vessels into which we can pour our aspirations. They allow us to dream — for ourselves, that one day we might be able to run that distance, and for our loved ones, whose goals become our own. Is this what the asshole(s) who carried out Monday’s attack had in mind? Part of me wants to know, and part of me doesn’t. It chilling to even think about.

But here’s the thing — terrorists don’t have a monopoly on symbolism, and before you give in to despondency, consider what the New York Yankees did last night.

In the past 15 years, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” has become something of a national anthem for fans of the Boston Red Sox. It’s played over the Fenway PA in the middle of the eighth inning at every home game, and I can tell you from witnessing this ritual firsthand two years ago that the crowd’s collective voice absolutely soars above the volume of the stadium’s speakers. You can tell — they love singing “Sweet Caroline.” I say “they” because, as a closet Yankees fan (we’ll save the story of my tortured baseball allegiances for another day), I’m supposed to distance myself from this phenomenon. But in truth, I’m so happy I was there to see it. Strangers singing together always strikes me as beautiful, but 37,000 people joined in song, belting out the descending “BAH BAH BAH” that follows the titular lyrics in the chorus? That’s a moment of mass human togetherness as powerful and genuine as any you’ll find.

That’s why I find it so touching that, in addition to observing a moment of silence, the Yankees organization decided to show their support for the city of Boston by playing “Sweet Caroline” over the stadium speakers in between the third and fourth innings of last night’s home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. What a gesture. If you’ve yet to see it, you have to check out the video above of the crowd’s reaction. It’s fantastic. You can see fans slowly recognizing the song, trying to decide how to react, starting to move with the music, and then completely losing it when the big moment — that “BAH BAH BAH” in the chorus — arrives. The camera cuts to one participatory New Yorker after another, each one singing along, each with a smile bigger than the last person’s. You know why they’re smiling? Because togetherness feels good. These are the faces of people who are choosing compassion over division and loving it. It’s fucking fantastic.

Sure, it’s just a baseball rivalry. A bunch of people watching a bunch of dudes chase a ball around. And sure, “Sweet Caroline” is just a song. But these are also symbols of the heights to which we can push each other when we band together, and if you’re struggling with the senselessness of Monday’s attack and are searching for confirmation that people are inherently good, look no further than the video above. I can honestly say that I’ll never hear “Sweet Caroline” the same way again.

Neil Diamond — “Sweet Caroline” [Spotify/iTunes]

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