With the exception of college and a few short visits to big cities on vacation, I have lived in a small town my entire life. It’s the cliché kind of place where people still marry who they dated in high school and you can’t go to Wal-Mart without running into someone you know. In the wake of national tragedies like in the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the divide between how Smalltown, USA, like my hometown, and large metropolises react to such events becomes evident.
Initially, we all have the same gut reaction: disbelief, horror, and sadness. There is a twinge of anger when we think about the mysterious forces that have taken lives and rocked our national sense of safety. Prayers are said for the victims, and the first responders and bystanders who answered the calls for help are praised as the heroes they are.
When you live in a small town, soon you realize there is a sense of detachment from the whole thing. We have to find a way to tie ourselves to the event to make it real. Local news outlets contact people from the home viewing area on vacation at the effected site. We call, text and email everyone we know that might have been in the area. I logged into Facebook to check whether any friends who run marathons had been in Boston. None were, but an acquaintance’s father had safely crossed the finish line shortly before the explosions. Even that tenuous connection made it more real for me.
Small towns react to big events in quiet ways. Schools will cautiously address the events with students. Come Sunday, churches will have prayers to commemorate the tragedy. Flags will fly at half-staff. We have no hospitals full of victims or citywide manhunts to aid so we mark these occasions in somber whispers.
But no matter how violent or heartbreaking an event is, it fades quickly in the minds of small town citizens. Please don’t mistake my meaning and think we pass over terror and death as unimportant. We don’t. It’s just that after the immediate shock wears off we let out the breath we had been holding because in the back of our minds we think, “That’s horrible, but I don’t live in a big city. I don’t have to worry. It can’t happen here.” When the people of Boston are cleaning reminders of the violence from the face of their city, and the citizens of New York and other big cities are revising security measures for large events, unless we know someone directly affected, we will have gone back to business as usual with only a faint residual sadness.
While being a small town in Middle America does insulate us from the physical violence, we should not allow that barrier to keep us from being vigilant. Violence can be targeted anywhere. It is not solely a concern of big city dwellers. So spread the word, fellow residents of Smalltown, USA. Use this as a way to open dialogues with your children. Donate blood. Take a first aid class so you can help if the need ever arises. Let this be a wake up call instead of just a story you tell others about where you were when the bombs went off.