“A bomb just went off at the Boston Marathon, guys.”
My boss shared the news as he passed through the office. To be honest, I thought it was just another gnarly music term. A strange band name. A performance that…bombed? Or was “the bomb”? Or something else that I’m just not hip enough to get?
I work in the music industry, see. I didn’t think there was a show going down in Boston, but figured that someone bringing up a new band was a lot more likely than an actual bomb going off at the Boston Marathon.
I was wrong.
It didn’t take long to figure out what happened. I streamed the live coverage as my mind combed through the usual comforts: Pay attention to the helpers. Thank goodness this isn’t government-sponsored violence. Look at those service men and women helping to clear the streets. I’m glad stuff like this is rare enough to demand such outrage. #PrayforBoston is trending on twitter. The love outweighs the hate. The extreme response shows how safe we normally are.
And, most selfishly (but genuinely): Glad I don’t know anyone in Boston.
Optimistic, yes, but none of this was particularly comforting at the time. Although my immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty (“How do I emotionally respond to this?”), a quick Google search of Washington DC brought it closer to home. Sirens and SWAT teams were screaming down the streets, or so Twitter hyperbolically reported. Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down. I had my first run in with the term “Heightened Terror Alert.” It was business as usual in my office, but the word “Terror” tends to evoke…well, the feeling of terror. There was “standard procedure” going on a few blocks away. In the wake of a bombing, “standard procedure” in the capital can look a little frightening.
DC in general has been a little frightening, at least for me. The threats from North Korea successfully increased my heart rate on more than one occasion last month. I walked past a policeman carrying a massive gun today, and sped up in spite of myself. I’m still getting used to the intensity of security guards on the way into museums. The obvious necessity and fragility of a defense presence makes my stomach turn—especially when it’s not always enough to keep people safe.
Perhaps my background is a bit too docile to keep up with the high-security scene. I watch action movies and kick-ass Terantino flicks like it’s my job, but the reality is that I’ve never even touched a glitter bomb. I’ve never so much as shot a paintball gun. I jump at the word “BOO!”, you guys. If we watch a horror movie together, I will clutch onto you like a leech. And violence—real violence—is disturbing foreign territory to me. (I’m very lucky for this, I know.)
It’s surprising that, spooked little horse that I am, I responded to the Boston Marathon Bombings with so much resolve. But I did. A lot of us did. We said a prayer, called our mothers, and kept on going.
At dinner last night, a friend shared how scared she was coming home from work. The bombing brutality was tumbling through her brain, and the enclosed and busy Metro was cause for concern. Fair enough, I figured. But that wasn’t what I said. Instead, like an overzealous talk-show host, I found myself telling her “I feel you, but…we can’t let the terror to get the best of us. Because if it does, then “they” win. And “they” can’t win. People who want to hurt other people can’t win. Fear can’t win.”
I’m sure I was much less articulate, but that was the sentiment. My friends, despite our usual political and ideological differences, nodded in rare approval. She agreed, too. You can’t psychologically torture a whole country, can you? Let’s not make it so easy.
Events like the Boston Marathon bombings will undoubtedly disrupt our ideas of humanity, life, security, and business-as-usual. The intense response here in DC reminded me that while this country (and its cities) are magnificent, even they are vulnerable–because everything and everyone is vulnerable, no matter what.
My raised-by-Disney heart fears the “bad guys” and cheers for “good guys.” It always will. But my adult heart, ridden with reality-checks, is beating in time with the rest of the so-called “normal people.” The scared but proud people—people with good sides, and with not-so-good sides, but with families and fates and feeling hearts. Folks who are mostly not okay with people hurting other people.
The fact that this is my definition of “normal” gives me hope. The fact that this bombing does not seem “normal” gives me hope.
We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid.