Since tragedies like Monday’s Boston Marathon Bombing don’t happen every day in the United States, there are a lot of temptations that are important to avoid as we deconstruct just what happened.
To start, everyone is entitled to feel whatever sadness or negative emotion they happen to feel. I felt like tearing up, and still do whenever I see pictures of the happy little 8-year-old boy blown to bits, or the pictures of those with legs torn off and lives irreversibly altered. I think about the sheer terror that took place in a place of joyousness, or of the emotional trauma it will take the victims and bystanders a lifetime to get over. I know there is a lot of healing that will need to take place. What happened opens up a new world of nightmares in regards to where we consider ourselves vulnerable and how evil people can exploit that vulnerability.
(As a runner myself, and knowing the euphoric feeling and dazed state of mind that you get when you’re nearing that finish line, it’s even more disturbing because I can imagine it better.)
So I don’t begrudge anyone for feeling human feelings, and anyone who tries to guilt you for that is out of line. The danger is when our visceral reactions change the way we think or act later — if we let that emotional reaction become a part of us as the days and weeks go by.
Being afraid to go to public events is perhaps the first dangerous instinct that comes to mind. “Now we can’t even do _____ without being afraid,” is commonly heard after attacks such as these. It’s easy to find yourself falling into a state of mind where this appears to change all of our assumptions about the world. Tied in with that is the feeling that evil (and evil people) have now crept into another heretofore “safe place.”
But though I can imagine what it might have been like at that finish line — with the aid of those dozens of gruesome on-the-scene videos, replays and retellings — I can also imagine the other races I’ve run, the thousands of public events I’ve attended, and the hundreds of thousands of people I’ve been around at one point or another in my life without a bomb going off or violence occurring at all.
The truth is that things we do in everyday life put us at much greater risk to life or limb than hanging around in a crowded public space. The world is already a dangerous place, and we take much of that danger for granted every day. There is violence beyond the bombings, the mass shootings and all the other stories that make the headlines. The quiet, forgotten violence is evil and it’s still there. The bombing doesn’t bring us to a new level of inhumanity — it shines a light on existent depravity by putting said violence in the most public of places, with cameras and narrative as far as the eye can see. It reminds us that we live in a world that’s often violent, brutal and random.
Yet the fact that we need such a reminder is evidence that the world’s not coming to anything new. There’s capacity for evil, and there’s capacity for good. And even more significant to me than the evil is the selflessness of the heroes that were there, and the generosity of the people of the city of Boston today and yesterday. That’s something that’s hard to do — harder than planting a bomb on a crowded street.
Is any of this comforting? No, not really. But we have to keep on going, sticking together despite the pain. As we have and as we will. If we didn’t, no one would be able to leave their houses — or even their beds in the morning. It’s security officials that should be paranoid about security concerns — not society at large. As long as it doesn’t preclude us as citizens from remaining wary and vigilant, we have to go on as normal. A bomb attack that killed three cannot change the psyche of an entire nation. It can’t be that easy to do.
So, we should mourn and introspect. After the shock wears off and this sadness dissipates, we should live our lives the same way we did — perhaps with a little more caution and concern for our fellow human beings. This might not mean much to some people, and it might mean a hell of a lot to others. But we have to keep on going — everyone in their own way.