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Friday, April 19, 2013

Terrorism: If? When.

I'm writing this five days after the Boston Marathon Bombing. While we struggle to make sense of this senseless act, many struggle to heal from wounds and losses no one wants to imagine. What needs to be said before anything is that my love and prayers go out to the victims and their families.

I live on the North Shore, barely thirty miles from Boston. As you have undoubtedly heard, Boston is a close-knit town and you did not have to be at the finish line on April 15 to feel the impact of these events on a deeply personal level. Like many parents, I experienced the lead weight fear in the pit of my stomach as I tracked down my son - a student at the Berklee College of Music who lives on Boylston Street - to thankfully learn he was enjoying a beautiful spring day off from school out of the city, far from harm's way.

Placing the phone down after connecting with him, I realized I was not washed clean with relief. The pure feelings of safety and security did not rush in to replace the feelings of concern and worry. Instead, the familiar, yet vague, sense of waiting came over me. "It" didn't happen to me or to someone I love. "It" was still out there, biding time.

In a recent interview about my book, inevitably I was asked about the lingering impact of an act of hatred long after the visible traces of healing had cured. Unfortunately, I have a bit more firsthand insight into the answer than I would like. As a child, my family was targeted by an arsonist. At a very early age, I learned that bad things happen to good people. There is a bubble of security that we are born into. It is the bubble we inhabit when we walk down a dark street without fear, or hear the slowing of a car behind us and know we will not meet harm, or stand in a crowd of people and feel we are among friends. It is the bubble where the voice of doubt that tells us to look over our shoulder cannot be heard. It is the place where harm is a hypothetical, an "if." That bubble burst for me when I was five and was replaced by a world of "when." My world became a place of when bad things happen not if they could happen.

There is an arch of surprise that bends over an event like what just happened to Boston. You can hear it in the bystanders' interviews and see it in the faces of people on the streets. "It" happened. Here! How can that be? Sharing the communal feelings of the shock and the grief and the sadness is part of the healing process that binds us together in a way subtly different than we were before. We are different because our world has shifted. The membrane of security ruptured and we are left to feel exposed.

I have lived a robust life in the world of "when" and have not been hobbled by the fears surrounding "if." The evidence of my experience is visible in ways I'm not always aware of. I do know that there is a clarity I have when I hear of a terrorist attack or another senseless act. It is an unfortunate act of fate that this clarity has already been recognized in my writing. I know that I cut through a lot of emotion because I don't have to wade through the sludge of shock. Bad things happen to good people. It's just the way it is.

Of course I wish that the 117th Boston Marathon ended the way it should have - with stories of personal bests and of traditions honored for another year. One thing I know for sure, once the keening and anger have subsided, we will settle into a world of "when" and be much stronger than we ever thought we could be.