Monday, April 15, 2013

Sorting out thoughts after a new Boston massacre

A very close friend of mine ran the Los Angeles Marathon a few weeks back with a time of 4:08:48. Had he been in Boston today with that time, he’d probably have been somewhere between getting a medal and grabbing a recovery banana when things started to explode.

In other words, way too flipping close. And sadly, many others were closer. 

Had he been there, it also would have been his second day of surviving a terrorist attack. No doubt, some of the runners and spectators today were in New York on Sep. 11. My friend was, too. And so was I.

The thing is, we talk about these sorts of things in terms of lives lost. In terms of people injured. The cold will look at property losses and dollar figures among these other grim stats. But can one truly say one attack is “worse” than another?

I’m not so sure. Watching the footage was one thing. Watching it unfold in real time was another. We didn’t have Twitter in 2001, but today, even the distant could watch as events unfolded.

What hit me was the confusion… the same feeling I had felt firsthand that Tuesday morning in 2001.

In the first hour after today’s attack, it was easy for me to put myself in the shoes of those in and around Copley. Reports of “other located devices” rang hauntingly similar to hearsay on the streets of New York when friends started saying “third plane coming.” What do you? Where do you go?

As crazy today as it was in 2001 were the reports of cell phone network overload. You want to tell someone you’re safe. You can’t. I recall an article in 2001 discussing how NYC’s cellular network was built to handle 20 percent of cell-phone-owning New Yorkers making calls at one time. On 9/11, they said something like 80 percent of owners were trying to make a call. Surely, today’s network is better… and yet, it founders in the situations where people need a comforting, familiar voice the most.

For all the calls for justice we will make (deservedly) and rage we feel (a natural reaction), what doesn’t get discussed enough is how these acts shake us. How many Green Line commuters will be looking at a fellow passenger just a bit differently tomorrow? No war, no trial, no sentence can change that.

Obviously, we cannot stop our lives or let these sorts of acts keep us from living life the way it’s meant to be. What’s sad to me, though, is even if we do that, some part of us will never feel as secure as the day before the attack.  Next year, on Patriot’s Day, there will be moments of silence and added security, likely (and rightfully) permanent fixtures for the event each year. Equally rightfully, someone will be able to lament that the marathon “isn’t like it used to be.”

Yesterday, I attended a Seattle Mariners game. At the 7th inning stretch, before “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the crowd joined in for “God Bless America.” Don’t misunderstand, I love our country… but I can also remember that we didn’t always include a second song to honor America at a ball game (the national anthem being the other).

For me, at least, I feel an uneasy tension with this sort of thing: the part of me that says “never forget” and the part of me that knows that’s exactly what the bad guys want. They don’t want us to forget. They want us to remember. Every moment.

Nothing can change that feeling we have inside. The questions of, “what is that guy up to?” The morbid worry of when and where the “next time” will be. All of those will, sadly, remain.

I hope Bostonians can capture a sense of normalcy soon. I just hope it’s actually “normal” they get to and not merely the “new normal” that we have faced for more than a decade.

Because it really is a shame that instead of all of us simply wondering “what is wrong with the world?” we have really come to know, and to some extent accept, that there is, simply, a lot of wrong in the world.   

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