Well. Easy enough to know where to begin. There was this thing that happened last Thursday, in a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark, as John Updike famously proclaimed our beloved Fenway. If I had nothing else to be grateful for this week, the pure delight of celebrating the final out of a World Series championship, of being a witness to the joyous exultations from the fans in the stands, from the players on the field, from the fireworks over the green monster and the joy that embraced an entire region, the whole of Red Sox Nation, a place that is no Mudville, not even vaguely this week—let’s just say, were I Rogers or Hammerstein, I’d find a way to work Game 6 into the lyrics of My Favorite Things. I will surely be remembering that evening, that joyfulness, for as long as I live.
It’s been four days since that final strikeout, which makes the World Series more than yesterday’s news. But I can’t stop reading whatever anyone’s willing to write about it. I love that the Boston Globe enticed a whole slew of wordsmiths —sports writers, diplomats, poets and historians among them—to provide us with a collective remembrance of this remarkable season. From Dennis Lehane to Robert Pinsky to Ken Burns to Samantha Power, each provided his or her unique perspective. But none hit the ball out of the park quite the way Stephen King did, ending thusly:
“I have puzzled long and hard about my devotion to the Red Sox—in good times and bad—and how it relates to the jewel city of the New England where I have spent almost my entire life. All I can figure is that there’s a powerful kind of transference going on. We bear the frustrations and celebrate the victories because they are us and we are them. No player has grasped this better than David Ortiz, who said—before famously proclaiming Boston as our (bleeping) city—“This jersey we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox. It says Boston.”
Under normal circumstances, sports are just a welcome diversion from our ordinary lives, and when the local teams win, we take a little bit of that victory to ourselves, bask in it for a day or two, then move on. This World Series was different, and not just because the final out was recorded on home turf for the first time in 95 years. It restored balance to a city that was hurt and frightened (but not cowed, never that) on April 15th…Half a year later, at another sporting event, there were no explosions, no deaths, no innocent bystanders maimed by flying shrapnel. Instead, almost 40,000 voices rose to repudiate anger, violence, and the darkness that always threatens: “Every little thing gonna be all right.”
On the night of October 30, 2013, it absolutely was. How (bleeping) great is that?”
The only thing I could possibly add to King’s take is that, first off, Bob Marley’s tune should become the Red Sox’ go-to anthem—immediately, if I had my way. And if the marvel of hearing 40,000 people singing in unison isn’t enough, what I will remember most, every time Shane Victorino came to bat, every time his chosen music was piped in, was the group pause, the perfect silence, in the middle of that phrase: Every Little Thing (…silence! amazing, remarkable silence!…) Gonna Be All Right. Forty thousand people, singing at the top of their collective lungs, then waiting, waiting, for it to be time for everything to be all right. Just fantastic.
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Okay, there was more than baseball this week. There was the complete change in seasons, made more vivid to all my senses by a trip I took to the Mt. Washington valley. In springtime, I love that I can make up for not having fully appreciated crocus season, or lilac season, or any other marker that nature throws our way to entice us towards warm weather, by simply hopping in the car and heading north. Whatever I’ve missed, bang, there it is, just an hour or so up the interstate. But this time of year, it’s that process in reverse. Go north and find yourself in stick season, the hills shifted from that riot of foliage to that pre-winter fade, red to rust, yellow to gray, green to gone. Going to the north these days is a lesson in appreciating what’s still vivid, back at home.
I get it, why people bemoan the end of warm weather and the disappearance of a sun willing to stay up in the sky. But I also love the turn towards winter. I love looking through the woods on my beloved 16B loop around Jackson Falls, hoping to catch sight of a moose or a bobcat or a pileated woodpecker. I love the smell of dead leaves and wet earth. I love the shift to hillsides of silver and rust.
I also love the excuse to light candles at dinnertime, to string up some twinkly little lights on the mantel, to open the damper and light a fire the fireplace. I’ve always been a sucker for Christmas displays, but really, who isn’t a happier human being, when the sun goes down at half past four, to have a little glow to come home to?
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There was also, on this particular weekend, a gathering of the clan that is New England ski racers. We came to support the New England Ski Museum, and to honor a remarkable athlete named Tyler Palmer. His list of athletic accomplishments is long, too long to mention here. But what he gave back on this evening, to a gathering of fellow coaches and athletes and ski industry folks, of friends and neighbors and mentors and mentees, was most remarkable for its emotional depth. We went to honor him; he stood up and honored us.
Tyler spoke the names of the people who had helped him along the way, especially the ones who pointed him in the right direction when he was particularly brash and headstrong and not inclined to do as he was told. To be the recipient of so much support from so many people along the way, and to have gained so many lifelong friends—Tyler counted this as the true victory of his life in ski racing, far above trophies and medals. This from the man who was the first American to win a World Cup race in Europe in the “modern” era: what mattered most, what was his greatest delight, was the fact that three kids from North Conway, New Hampshire, got to represent their country in the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. And that he got to come back to his home town and honor the coaches and mentors who have passed, and to thank the ones who would come out on a chilly evening to be there for him, was his pride and his joy. It was infectious. It was a night that made this little ski racing world matter, just a little bit more than usual.
I really don’t know if sports should matter as much as they do in this world. But now and then, by luck or kismet, I really do believe it can take a sporting event for us to join together and notice collectively what matters most. A teammate to hold you up. A friendship that lasts forever. A chance to work hard, and be proud, and, when the stars align, to cue the duckboats and celebrate as one.