The sounds of “Sweet Caroline” rang out in baseball fields across the nation when the Red Sox played their first home game after the Boston Marathon tragedy. Neil Diamond made a trip to Fenway Park to surprise fans and lead the singing of what has become the team’s theme song. On that day, the words “hands touching hands” took on a new meaning. Researchers tell us that music and touch are healing and friends are an important part of the healing process.

Through the work of Dr. Laura K. Guerro at Arizona State University,Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships, and many other researchers, we know that from infancy to adulthood -- touch comforts.

Returning to Boston after the bombing was grippingly. While I was able to get to visit my mother at the nursing home in a round about way via two busses, returning to Back Bay train station was a challenge as Copley Square remained a crime scene. The side streets to Boylston were barricaded and guarded by police and miliary reservists on parallel Newbury Street. But it was Boston flourishing. People thanking police officers and the military, shaking hands, taking pictures, throwing kisses, and leaving flowers and messages.

The spontaneous memorial

At the “Finish line” flowers, teddy bears, running shoes, medals, tee

shirts, and tributes kept building. Two young men came by and set up a large funeral wreath. There were young couples and older ones holding onto each other. Some stood in stunned silence.  Others wept.

Friendship and tragedy

Walking in a round-about way to the train, I grappled with the enormity of sadness. As such, a few blocks from the station instead of turning to the train, I went towards the familiarity of the red awning on the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Standing at the entrance, blocked by a barricade on one side, it framed an empty street and punctuated the large red letters MEDICAL on the tent at the end of the block. 

As I smiled at the doormen, I was reminded of a Psychology Today column in Ulterior Motives by Dr. Art Markahm. He points out that despite the freedom of our independent lifestyle, “that freedom comes at the cost of our connection to community.” He goes on to explain how Starbucks is a draw.  In adapting to new environments, he says, “We tend to attach ourselves to things that are familiar as an anchor.” 

At that moment for me Copley Square as an environment was no longer familiar. Except for a legion of police officers – life stood still. A moment later, in a city in which everyone seems to know someone I felt as I knew no one.  Then came serendipity, Constance Carmen, Fairmont manager and designer appeared from nowhere with her smile and an embrace. Days before she and I talked of her environmentally friendly creations, this day we talked of sorrow and gratitude.

The neighborhood family

That’s when I again realized what I love about Boston where Copley is the extended family of Beacon Hill where I had lived.  The city is a small town.  People know each other through multiple connections.  You can be away for years and walk into little shops and the merchants will say, “Gee, I haven’t seen you for a while.  How’s it going?”

Life is fragile. So it is good to store up reserves of “hands touching hands” moments. Despite the value of social media, it is the power of touch that we need when hearts are breaking. In a city torn apart by tragedy – friends, gratitude, music, hugs and the outpouring of love have become the healing balm. The memorial has now moved to the plaza in front of Trinity Church. People still leave notes and the tulips are in bloom.

Copyright 2013 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

(Photos, Rita Watson)

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