Berlin Can Take It… by Steve Safran

This week in horrible news has Stevie remembering Berlin. His thoughts remind me of how all of us are Boston Strong. Hate never wins. Our hearts are in Berlin (and so many places where horror happens), but Berlin can take it.

It was in Berlin where I apparently ordered a “Coffee with ice from the road, please.”

It was in Berlin where I smoked my first and last e-cigarette. The nicotine still hasn’t come off my face.

It was in Berlin that I leaned casually against a wall where, just a few decades earlier, I would have been shot.

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It was in May 2012, that I visited a friend who was working in Berlin. I’d always wanted to see this legendary city so I finally had an excuse. Newly separated, I traveled alone. It was my first real trip as a single guy. It felt… odd. Berlin. Legendary. Land of spies. Ground Zero of the Cold War. Home base for the Holocaust.

And so, so many places to get beer.

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Berlin is not generally a beautiful city. It can be as ugly as it is fascinating. Certainly, the part that was West Berlin is better looking than the former East Berlin. It’s sort of the difference between Brooklyn and Queens, if Queens had been flattened and been rebuilt out of bad concrete.

There are parts that are beautiful. The Grunewald is Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park, but ten times larger– plus a lake. Wannsee sits on the water here, a beautiful beach and home to the eponymous 1942 conference where the Nazis decided on “The Final Solution to The Jewish Question.” There are contradictions and cognitive dissonances everywhere.

At the Brandenberg Gate, where Ronald Reagan famously challenged Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” tourists mingled with street performers dressed, tastelessly, as American and East German soldiers, Darth Vader, Yoda and Mickey Mouse Gone Bad. This is now banned. However, you can still find costumed Fake Soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous gate that used to separate East and West Berlin.

I danced on Hitler’s grave in Berlin. Really. It’s not marked, but where Hitler was burned on a pyre outside his bunker in April 1945, now sits a small parking lot capable of holding, maybe, 10 cars. Germany didn’t want lots of Neo-Nazis hanging about the place, so they literally paved over history. (OK, almost literally.) My friend and I pulled in. I got out of the car, danced a small jig, and got back in. Good enough.

Berlin is no stranger to horrors, and this week’s is a mere scratch compared to what it’s been through. Still, how awful. How unfair. How absurd and shameful. An attack on Christmas shoppers. It’s beyond the pale. We all agree on that. And we stand, of course, with Berlin. Ich Bin Ein and all that.

But those who are claiming responsibility have nothing to claim. They haven’t accomplished a thing. They murdered people, yes. But they are a mere footnote to a great city’s long and complicated history. They stand for nothing. They may cost Angela Merkel her job, but another chancellor will come along. Berlin and Germany will go on, being a complex, industrious powerhouse.

You want to hurt Berlin?

Try harder. You’ve got nothing on history.

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Superheroes

Anyone rather personally touched by Cancer is forever changed. It’s left me scarred, occasionally scared, frequently sanctimonious, and quite blabby. Everyone approaches it differently. More elegant victims suffer it without blogs or incessant status updating. Me, I’m share-y. But every cancered parent I have met has at some moment uttered this mantra (prayer?) of thanksgiving: if Cancer must happen, then let it be me. No matter how terrifying those early moments during diagnosis, at least this was mine to bear. The children were safe.

But for thousands of parents each year, cancer isn’t theirs to endure, but instead—impossibly– to witness in the suffering of their children. Christopher’s Haven exists for them.

You might have followed a famous sports bet between adorable celebrities who promised to dress up as their superhero alter egos to benefit sick kids in the losing team’s town. But when the Patriots won, so did everyone; and Star-Lord and Captain America made appearances that did quite a bit more than lift the spirits of children with cancer. They brought attention to organizations like the Christopher’s Haven, blowing up their website in mere minutes with donations. These are things superheroes do.

Yesterday, a lovely lunch was held rather quietly in the lower level of the Loews Hotel. Co-hosted by elegant Sue Farrell and eloquent Diana Knightly, and emceed by the charming and even-prettier-up-close Shonda Shilling, this gathering honored Chris Pratt for his social media endorsement and real life contribution to Christopher’s Haven. There was an enchanting pediatric fashion show featuring current residents and alums of the Haven alongside local kids and a handful of adorable toddlers with famous last names from Fenway. And then… and then… a parent.

I’m not sure how you can speak to strangers about your little boy and his devastating brain tumor without sobbing or reverting to stock cancer tropes or feigned optimism. But this is exactly what one mom did: she stood in front of a room full of well dressed ladies and famous ball players and do-gooding Bostonians and told the truth. Daily life seemed impossible in the face of cancer treatment for their son. How would they commute two hours to the only hospital offering the only hope? Would it be possible to afford two homes or maintain some sort of family routine for the care of their other children? Adrift, terrified, and googling, this mom found Christopher’s Haven.

Within minutes this family had options. Even more, they felt immediately like they had a support network of other parents and children who could minister to their fears and hopes, share their tears and prayers, engage in actual fun, and create those forever kind of friendships. For only $30 a day, Christopher’s Haven provided them a home away from home and an opportunity for their son to have the kind of treatment that offers cautious optimism, but aims for a cure.

Cancer is around every corner for me lately. Two close friends with new diagnoses of invasive cancer and another who learned hers is metastatic disease followed the still very fresh loss of Lisa Bonchek Adams. The quiet in the wake of Lisa’s death is a daily reminder to many of us that it’s never really over. I cry whenever I learn someone must endure the drastic-surgery-and-go-bald kind of treatment. The scientist in me knows this is an impersonal effect of cells gone rogue, but the Churchy Jesus Girl falls to her knees to pray for miracles. Yesterday, the angry skeptic appeared and wanted someone to make sense of a world where children die because we cannot reliably control tumor growth.

The ultimate salve for these emotions is love. There was great love in that room of lunching benefactors yesterday. With a bit of time and money, places like Christopher’s Haven combat sadness with comfort, replace loneliness with friendship, and attack fear with community.

There is also great love surrounding my friends who in upcoming weeks will face a blur of appointments, mutilating surgeries, and terrifying, 3am googling of side effects and survival rates. For them, there may that tiny bit of relief that this is theirs to bear. But while they endure the Let It Be Me, the rest of us will rally to be their superheroes.

In the meantime, everyone in the Cancer world will appreciate these. If you don’t know what to say to your newly diagnosed friend, well, this gal will say it for you. And if you wanted to join in and help families who are enduring the worst cancers—those affecting their children—then please click on over here and be Captain America fabulous.

Love and prayers, friends.

LEMONS

STRONGER THAN EVER… by Steve Safran

For me, the most amazing people at the Boston Marathon are not the winners. To be sure, running 26.2 miles in two hours and change is an astonishing feat. But to my mind, it’s everyone else who runs the Marathon who is the best.

That’s pretty easy sentiment, I know. But consider nearly every marathoner runs knowing he won’t win. Won’t even come close. Can you think of any other sport where that’s the case? Any other event in life? Even lottery ticket buyers hold a small hope for a win. Joe Marathon runs knowing he won’t.

And that’s what’s so great about The Pack. They’re running for the joy of it, for a personal best, in memory of loved ones, to raise money, and for 30,000 other reasons. They run to run.

And man, do they run.

I had the good fortune of covering the Boston Marathon for Boston.com. I reported from the start in Hopkinton and from the finish in the Back Bay. (The media bus with police escorts is the only way you’ll find Stevie “running” the route.) I’ve never seen the rested and carb-loaded athletes at the Start or witnessed their transformation at the Finish. When you see the runners in Natick or Wellesley, they’re still in pretty good shape. By the time they hit Boston, they look like Hell. They also look fantastic. Every quadricep, every ligament, and every other whatever Britt can recall from gross anatomy– they’re on display, steeled for the goal. These aren’t just people who put on a kick to the finish; they kick the finish in the ass.

So yes, I saw the winners race past to triumphant finales. But it was another runner I won’t forget. His fall was dramatic enough, collapsing maybe 50 yards shy of the finish line. And then a fellow runner stopped. He stopped. He likely didn’t know the guy who fell. Maybe he was on pace for a personal best. But he stopped, helped the stumbling runner to his feet, and together, arm-on-shoulder, they finished.

Name another sport where those two “losers” are such winners.

As I write this, I’m in the Back Bay station, waiting for the commuter rail. I feel undeserving of the Gatorade I’m drinking. Runners are here waiting for the train, too. I don’t know why that strikes me– but it does. These champions just ran the freakin’ Boston Marathon, and they’re standing here like any other commuter. They have to go to work tomorrow. They’re just average folks who happen to be the best athletes in the world.

Sportsmanship at its finest.

Sportsmanship at its finest.

A love letter to baseball, by Steve Safran

Many of us are feeling the nostalgia-twinged excitement tonight. Go, Sox!

Mom didn’t expect to see herself on the bright, new, hi-def Enormo-tron overlooking 36,000 people. None of us had ever been on Fenway Park’s big screen before. But there we were, enormously memorialized during Game One of the 2013 American League Division Series. How many lucky guys can boast attendance at this game, accompanied by the parents who birthed him into this great (Red Sox) Nation? Me. I can. Look at us.

Dad, Mom, her nose, and me

Dad, Mom, her Band Aid, and me

Mom wishes she’d timed the nose-mole removal a little better, since now her Band-Aid schnoz is captured forever, both here and on the JumboTron. We’re too superstitious to have arrogantly assumed this game would foretell future pennant grabbings. But now, my childhood team of bearded heroes is headed to the World Series, and the Jumbotron still of me, my parents, and one of my oldest friends gains even more sentimental cache. Also, superstition dictates that Mom cannot remove the Band Aid until this wraps up in November.

At the risk of having a puck hurled at my head, I’m partial to baseball over other popular sports in these parts. Playoffs in basketball and hockey are interminable. They’re playing when you file your taxes, hunt for eggs, and plan brunch for Mom… and they’re still at it when you put out the patio furniture and buy socks for Dad. That’s not a playoff system– that’s three entirely different cute kitties on the calendar. Baseball? Lose three out of five and you’re gone. And I’ve been to some magical nights at Fenway. As Humphrey Bogart once said “A hot dog at the ballpark beats a steak at the Ritz.” A bad night at the park–with the parking ticket and the drunk asshole and the Sox breaking our hearts–that’s still a damn good night.

A life-long love affair with the Red Sox, fostered by their parents, and shared with their best friends is a significant part what makes Bostonians of all ilk high five in the streets and feel Boston Strong. And tonight, on the eve of the first night of the World Series, I’m writing a love note to the Red Sox, to Fenway… to Baseball.

Dear Baseball,

I saw your gorgeous, green Fenway field for the first time in 1975– the very year the Red Sox came thisclose to winning the World Series in what is agreed to be one of the great Fall Classics. I was the seven year-old boy who cried when Fred Lynn crashed into the wall in Game Six, so worried for my idol that I sobbed myself to sleep that night. There was something about Carlton Fisk, and I missed the rest of the game, but Dad has his I-was-there story for all time.

That home run I hit in Little League in 1979? That cemented our bond, baseball. Maybe it was a grounder that went through the shortstop’s legs, allowing me to scoot from one base to another in a comical series of bad throws. Never mind all that. It was a Home Run, with merit trophy proof of my commitment to you… even if it was for coming in second.

I dozed off every summer night to announcers calling your plays on AM radio. Stu loved you as much as I did, and took me to game after game—a childhood relationship chronicled in Fenway ticket stubs. So I know you were sad, too, when it happened, losing one of your purist fans on September 11th when I lost my best friend.  After that we became even closer, baseball. Your games took on new meaning—weightier and urgent– as I root hard enough for the both of us.

A love note to you inevitably includes a family history of heartbreaks. Papa was a Boston Braves fan who was 20 when Babe Ruth played his final, sad year on the club. Dad once left a game early with his father, only to see a Ted Williams homer sail over his head as they walked behind the Green Monster. And me? Well, I died a little in 1978, 1986, and 2003. But then, in 2004, you rewarded us for our faith in you. (Because we know you love the Sox, too.)

Passing on our passion for you to our children is like a covenant in this town. My middle son was born in the fourth inning of a Sox game in 1998. I held him and explained your rules… starting in the sixth. Appreciating the subtleties of baseball, I told him, is a lifetime commitment. Baseball, you are the great imitator of life, providing the perfect proverb for my kids: though you may fail most of the time, you will still be a hero as long as you stay at the plate.

“How can you not get romantic about baseball?”  asked Billy Beane, echoing our feelings exactly. You are our shared history, our shared hot dogs, our shared disappointment, and tonight, our shared excitement. You’ve provided the venue for me to bond with my family, reminisce, enjoy new friendships, honor old ones, and drink an immoderate amount of beer. But you are a fickle lover, baseball, and I won’t implore you to bless our Sox tonight. We’ve got this covered. We’re Boston Strong. And Mom’s still wearing that Band Aid.

With great love, and a Pedroia jersey,

Steve