Tragedy demands a release. When David Letterman took his spot at the Ed Sullivan Theatre for his first show after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he let us know that it was okay to laugh. The shock of the attacks was beyond immense, defying description of the emotional impact. There were no words. There are no words. There will never be enough words. Laughter, if only for a moments eased the pain.
Friends added an accessory to Chandler and Joey’s apartment—a big American flag. Its presence, without mention, indicated the innate quality of patriotism that an attack on the homeland can generate. We can give blood. We can offer comfort. We can wear a symbol showing that America is united. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
Mike Piazza’s home run in the first Major League Baseball game since the 9/11 attacks gave an escape sorely needed. Would a game matter again? Would we be able to cheer again? When the Mets and the Braves took the field on September 21, 2001, those questions seemed unanswerable. An extra shot of patriotic adrenaline moved through the veins of players, fans, and everyone else in attendance during The Star-Spangled Banner. A game that may appear meaningless reminded us that sports and entertainment are distractions from the challenges, obstacles, failures, setbacks, stumbles, and disappointments of life. During a national tragedy, sports and entertainment are vital to the national morale. For just a few moments, we can remember what it’s like to cheer, to laugh, and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Saturday Night Live, a New York City institution, began its first post-9/11 show with Paul Simon singing The Boxer while the city’s first responders stood as stoic as oak trees. Mayor Rudy Giuliani and SNL creator Lorne Michaels had an iconic moment after the song. Michaels inquired, “Can we be funny now?” Millions of viewers wondered the same thing.
“Why start now?” responded Giuiliani.
It was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek exchange perfectly suited for an extremely tense period in the nation’s history that will never be forgotten.
In his address to Congress on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush said, “It is my hope that in the months and years ahead life will return almost to normal. We’ll go back to our lies and routines and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace.” Learning to laugh again and cheer once more are the first steps of that recession.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 21, 2016.