Falla: Healing Through Hockey

Brian Falla grew up steps from the Boston Marathon’s Natick stretch, and so it is logical that he help us begin to heal from the tragedies of April 15th the way he, and many of us, know best. Please share your feelings and thoughts with Brian below in the comments.

A week after a reign of terror tore apart my city and my heart, the healing process has begun, and much of the elixir, I’m almost ashamed to admit, has come not from prayer services or candlelight vigils, but courtesy of the Church of Hockey.

It began with the Bruins-Sabres game two days after a pair of bombs at the Boston Marathon took three lives, injured 176, and rocked an entire region to its core.

My tears, which had been welling up behind a dam of denial, outrage and plain old stupid hubris, began to flow freely long before the drop of the puck when the camera zoomed in on a fluttering black-and-gold tee shirt somebody had dedicated to Martin Richard – the 8-year-old boy who lost his life in the bombing – and draped over the famous Bobby Orr statue outside the garden. The tears would continue unabated long into the first period.

I cried for 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, and Boston University graduate student Lingzi Lu, both of whom also died in the explosions, and for the 176 people injured, some of whom will literally have to rebuild their lives on new, prosthetic foundations.

I cried for myself as my mind traveled down the very dark corridors that seem inevitable for all parents when we see people faced with the unthinkable horror of having to bury a child.

And I cried for the eviscerated innocence of a peaceful, cosmopolitan event that has always symbolized all that is great in this nation and city.

I grew up about a 3-iron (okay, a 3-iron for a pro golfer, more like driver/mulligan/driver/drop/wedge for me) from the Boston Marathon route on the Natick/Wellesley line, which is roughly halfway from Hopkinton to Boston. Many people consider the Boston Marathon to be a world event, but for those along the route and in the near vicinity, it is very much our own. The same people flock to the same places every April. The marathon, for us, is almost a de facto Town Meeting, or a class reunion. When I was young, Marathon Days had a surreal consistency to them. The kids would spend the day handing out orange slices and small cups of water to runners, while the adults sat in lawn chairs and socialized. Eventually, we’d all walk back to somebody’s house, fire up the grill and have a good time.

How we went from handing out orange slices to crafting makeshift tourniquets is beyond my comprehension and makes a part of me want to apologize to my two kids for bringing them into this world.

And finally, I cried from the guilt of my own tears when others were hurting so much more.

After attending the marathon either for pleasure or work for almost my entire life, I was not at this year’s event. All my friends who ran or attended were safe. My wife and I had moved out of Boston into the suburbs seven years ago. In some respects, I escaped this tragedy unharmed, and yet there I was tearing through a box of tissues for reasons I could only partly comprehend.

By the third period Wednesday, I felt a little better, but then Friday, the stakes were raised again and the entire region was put through a tortuous day of violence and then deafening silence.

Our worlds were once again was turned upside down when the two suspects engaged in shootout with authorities that left MIT police officer Sean Collier dead, MBTA officer Richard Donohue Jr. fighting for his life, and an entire city and surrounding towns in virtual lockdown while the rest of us watched what seemed to be a never-ending manhunt for the second suspect.

But just when you lose faith in the world, you get scene to warm your heart, which happened Friday night in Watertown, Mass, where, after the capture of the second suspected terrorist – whom I will not name since, to paraphrase Herb Brooks, the name on the front means a hell of a lot more than the name on the back – the entire town flooded into the streets to wave flags, thump chests and express their profound thanks to the thousands of law enforcement personnel leaving the scene of the capture. It was a modern day version of V-J Day for the city and its residents.

Enter hockey once again when Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Garden, 17,000-plus thundered out the National Anthem in victorious defiance, tinged still with mourning for the dead, wounded and their families. The healing process had finally begun in earnest, and for me, hockey was a central theme. The games were reassuring reminders that there is a tremendous amount of good in the world, especially the hockey world.

Opposing teams donated generously to the victims, they wore patches and hats in tribute to Boston and the various law enforcement and emergency organizations involved in the bombing and subsequent manhunt, they gave stick salutes. The Bruins, naturally, were equally generous, and after Sunday afternoon’s game gave the shirts off their backs to dozens of local emergency responders in a moving and fitting tribute.

At least for a few dark days in Boston, the hockey world joined hands as one and proved Herb Brooks famous statement doesn’t always hold true: Sometimes the name on the front of the jersey doesn’t matter either. This week, the hockey world came together with one strong message: We are united. We will prevail. We are Hockey Strong.

4 thoughts on “Falla: Healing Through Hockey

  1. Brian Falla

    Thanks, Catherine. When you write something like this, you never truly know whether or not it will resonate, so it’s nice to know it’s been appreciated.

  2. Nikki

    Beautifully written. Your sister is a dear friend from work… You both possess a similar passion and conviction. The world needs more Fallas!

  3. Brian Falla

    Thanks Nikki. I actually have two more Fallas (2 and 3) I was ready to give away today (mostly the two-year-old). You interested:-)
    Hope all is well in the great state of Maine.

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