Lament from a Hometown Refugee

Bryan Wandel

Dear Buffalo Sabres,

Last night, you lost Game Seven to the Philadelphia Flyers. You were knocked out of the playoffs like Chiang Kai-Sheck out of China. Like Pete Best was kicked out of the Beatles. Like Oreos dropped trans fats. It hurt. You were the best team in the conference since January 1. You pulled yourselves up by the bootstraps, when you were 10 points out of a playoff spot in mid-January. You had momentum.

In short, my dear Sabres, I feel with you. My apartment in Alexandria is 389 miles away, but in my chest, it’s a heartbeat. Like many of my Millenial comrades, I have moved from the town I grew up in. But my tribal support for Buffalo sports is a reminder that not just any place can be called home.

I left for opportunities: for power, jobs, and something new. But all somethings new, it turns out, are basically the same. Each person only has a special, limited set of somethings old. Is Buffalo a better region than any other? I am sure my childhood was not quantitatively better than it could have been elsewhere. But the point is that it did occur in one particular place, that all of my first 22 years occurred in or within an hour of the cultural locus of the Western New York: the Nickel City.

Oh, Sabres, how we’ve fallen together! We’ve failed together, and been disappointed together! Between you and the Buffalo Bills, we have a combined 85 seasons without a national championship. But we are a people who live on our disappointments. We cherish our playoff losses, our blizzards, our rusty industrial decline. Our proudest moment was over 100 years ago, when we hosted the Pan-American Exposition. All the world came to see! And before their eyes, a US president was assassinated.

I listened to the playoff series on the radio, because Rick Jeannerette has been calling our games since 1971. He calls me home, because he was there when I was in diapers, in pre-K, in the throe of adolescent hormones.

In short, my friends are in Washington, DC, but my family is in Buffalo.

Is this merely the longing for things past? As a conservative, I recognize immediately that the answer is yes. But it is possible to avoid being a sappy nostalgiac, while still feeling the emotions associated with your past. When I cheer for you, my Sabres, my past becomes a part of me again. I remember myself.

“Know yourself!” said Plato. “Create yourself!” said Nietzsche. I will, I will – but I will also remember myself.

When I live hundreds of miles from my birthplace, and I can only talk to family members by phone; when my ages 0-22 are stuck in a Rust-belt tundra – I am grateful for a national sports system that is essentially tribal.

Yours truly,

Bryan Wandel

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